Figs, in Judaism, are thought to be the fruit of knowledge that Adam and Eve ate from in the Bible (and not apples), and so brings to mind images of sin, life and knowledge.
In Figs, there is in fact, no specific mention of figs at all. In fact, the characters even end up eating pears onstage, which begs the question of its title. There is however, a tree in this play, and a man (played by Nigel Choo) who is very much in love with this tree. Said man lives on a tiny planet surrounded by the tree and sunflowers, and spends each morning watering it and vacuuming the area around it.
The unnamed man’s story plays out like a warped version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, featuring him leaving his beloved tree on the planet to explore other planets in an attempt to find out if they too love trees as he does, and travels via a talking vulture (Tan Ze Xuan), with whom he eventually forges a bond with. Along the way he meets a fashion designer who loves beautiful things (Chantel Foo), a transvestite old man who yearns for love (Anthea Julia Chua), a sick person who fancies him/herself God (Louise Marie Lee) and a teacher who takes (implied) pornographic films of herself and sends them to strangers (Katrina Jacinto). Throughout his journey, the man realises that these people are all lonely, whether literally, or because they make themselves so. There is a sustained melancholy throughout this storyline, and it basically doesn’t end well, although it certainly does end rather poetically.
In the second storyline, which was acted out in parts in between the first, multiple members of the ensemble play a single character, who is attempting to tell his/her story while being filmed. It’s never explicitly stated who this person is, why she’s in hospital, or what is really going on. Each one of these scenes happens as a monologue, and becomes almost repetitive, as the character says that his/her previous attempt to tell the story wasn’t that good, or the videographer has the wrong intent. Each cast member had their moment during their monologue, but especially impressive was Anthea Julia Chua, who was able to work slight nuances into the character to bring an air of mystery and intrigue to him/her.
Figs describes itself as an exploration of gender performance, and does touch on it to an extent, but it’s really more about life itself, and the exploration of what it means to exist and human relation. It’s a play that offers more questions than answers, and ends up stoically sticking to its abstract nature, leaving the audience to decipher most of its esoteric code hidden in analogy and metaphor. What I did feel upon walking away from the theatre, was a profound sense of sadness present throughout the play, an inherent dissatisfaction characteristic of the disenfranchised 20th century youth. There was a sense of feeling lost, from the patchwork floor of strangers’ clothes woven into a chimaera of memories, to the utter solitude many of the characters end up finding themselves in. Perhaps Figs sought to represent that feeling, a search for meaning and a sense of self amidst the madness that’s happening in our world that seems to be becoming increasingly closed in.
For their sophomore production, Make Space Theatre has decided to go full on experimental. Despite a largely puzzling script, there are the occasional gems hidden throughout, from the tongue-in-cheek conversation the man has with ‘God’, to the sad, lonely existence the transvestite has, thriving even on love that does not involve him. Many of these however, are just flashes of genius, and it’s a pity that the audience is, much like Nigel’s character, subject to becoming mere tourists, catching only fleeting moments and left wondering what the point of the greater narrative actually is amidst the abstract scenes. Figs is a promising piece that could have benefited from a bit more editing, but certainly leaves the audience thinking, and paves the way for more introspective, thought provoking and original plays to come from Make Space.
Figs plays at the Substation till Saturday, 2 July. Tickets can be reserved here