SIFA 2017: Of Fathers, Daughters and Families (Open Homes Week 1 Review)
Ever imagined stepping into a stranger’s house on the other side of town and immediately becoming privy to their family life? The 2017 Singapore International Festival of the Arts main season kicked off this weekend with Jeffrey Tan’s Open Homes, where audiences were given the unique experience of entering a stranger’s house as a guest, listening to the homeowner introduce them to the home while telling audiences a story from their lives. This weekend, we visited two homes that despite being completely different, each held a woman who had remarkably close relationships to their fathers.
A House of Dreams by Punitha d/o Ramanathan, Lentor Vale
For an Eastie, anything beyond Orchard on the MRT line already sounds daunting. So imagine our apprehension when we got up to head down to Yio Chu Kang on a Saturday morning to attend A House of Dreams. Lentor Vale is a bit of a maze, and even if you’re travelling by car, can be confusing to navigate.
But our fears were assuaged the moment we stepped past the gates into Punitha’s beautiful home. A multi-storey landed house, the audience of about ten or so people gathered in the front yard before the show began, where a gorgeous swingset was set up (and people were even allowed to sit on it).
Punitha, as an English Literature teacher, began with a poem. What at first seems to be a simple account of one woman’s life quickly takes a turn as she describes her businessman father’s close relationship to her, acting as a pillar of strength in her life. As we moved through various parts of Punitha’s house, she went into much more detail into her father’s life, and eventually, emotionally recalling his death. In a sense, the house continues to hold so many echoes of her father, as Punitha recalls the first time he stepped into the house after buying it, happy beyond imagination, or his beloved liquor collection arranged neatly on shelves in the dining room.
Punitha’s story then, ultimately, is one about her fulfilling her role as her father’s daughter, filling in for the void that her father left behind. Although her own life took on a vastly different from her father’s, she is spurred on by the same determination to succeed and chase her own dreams, and in his absence, has essentially inherited not only the house, but all his values and the memories that come with it. A House of Dreams is a reflective, thought provoking performance enhanced by Punitha’s hospitality and casual, confident presence in her own home, and though heavy, made for an enchanting, meaningful start to the day.
Balance by Christie Chua, Marine Terrace
In the afternoon, we visited a very different home, much closer (distance-wise) to our own stomping grounds in the East. Over at Marine Terrace, we gathered at the void deck of an HDB block, taking the lift up to visit Christie Chua’s home, which she moved into apartment just under a year ago, living alone for the first time.
In her performance, Christie casually explained her process of clearing out old items and the sense of freedom she got from owning her very own home and allowed to do anything she wanted with it. Although not very big, the small audience of about eight people fit snugly into the house, making for a very cosy and intimate experience as Christie light-heartedly recounted her relationships growing up with each of her family members. Christie also shared old photos with the audience, depicting her as a child with each of her family members, which further helped with the visualization of her anecdotes.
Although not necessarily possessing a ‘storyline’, Christie’s delivery was conversational in tone, and Balance felt like visiting an old friend’s house as we listened to her speak. Balance was a simple affair, but made for a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday afternoon, helped in part by the extremely accommodating and participative audience, and truly offers a glimpse into one woman’s attempt to temper her newfound independence with her own past, a familiar yet strangely arresting portrayal of growing up.