>MA: MOMENT by TheatreWorks

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 26 aug 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: an open field at sago lane
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Just as July was the month of gay plays, August appears to have been reserved for plays about mothers. After W!ld Rice's hankie-fest 'For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again' (dedicated by Ivan Heng in the programme to "my mother - and all our mothers"), MA: MOMENT feels positively restrained, focussing on, just for a change, the fraught relationship between a woman and her mother.

There isn't really a plot, just a situation - Mei Ling, an elderly woman waiting for death to claim her, thinks back over her life, from a girlhood in Chinatown through a highly colourful career as a mamasan to a desolate old age. What follows is a mixture of what might be memories and what might be dreams. "I'm not sure I've woken up yet," she murmurs at one point, and neither are we.

Mei Ling is played by Lok Meng Chue, although what Lok does with the part goes beyond acting - she inhabits the character convincingly, but at times steps outside and presents it to us. It is an astonishingly detached piece of theatre, and she is helped in this by Noorlinah Mohamed and Tang Fu Kuen, both gifted physical performers who take on the roles of Horse and Ox, emissaries from Hell sent to fetch Mei Ling.

>>'This is a mixture of what might be memories and what might be dreams. "I'm not sure I've woken up yet," she murmurs at one point, and neither are we.'

The real star of the show, though, is its setting, which dwarfs all three actors with its sheer scale. Designer Mark Wee has carved a number of spaces in a field on Sago Lane, on a site - as we are reminded several times in the play - where death houses (a species of hospice without the health care) used to stand. There is nothing above us. We can see the moon - not a paper moon in a canvas sky, but the real deal. It is the actors who feel unreal, not just because they are cut off from us by a muslin scrim - beautifully lit by Lim Yu-Beng - but because the artifice of what they are doing stands in such stark contrast to the grass and mud beneath our feet. It doesn't help that they all speak in stylised, over-inflected voices which, amplified over the sound system, provoke the aural equivalent of a migraine.

Just to add to the sense of reality blurring in front of us, a good part of the show is taken up by repeated screenings of scenes from a black and white Chinese film, 'Mother's Grief', in which Bai Yan (described in the programme as "the Greta Garbo of Hong Kong cinema") experiences anguish and finally dies for the sake of her daughter. One medium, we are invited to see, can comment on another - here the film is used to great effect to show the changes in Mei Ling's feelings about life and motherhood.

The script by Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae isn't as acerbic as the rest of their body of work, which began with indie group Spell #7, but it has some moments of dark comedy to treasure, chief amongst them a vision of hell as a place where you are deprived of material possessions because your descendants have failed to burn them for you. "My perfume! I smell bad now," wail the tormented souls of the damned. "My pyjamas! I can't sleep now."

The evening never really comes together, though, and for all its many delightful moments we never really come to know who Mei Ling is or why we should care about her story. The exquisite design of this piece seems to lie where its heart should be, though perhaps this is fitting for what is after all a fine meditation on lost love and the emptiness that lies in the heart of even the strongest individuals.