Since its inception in 2008, Jean Tay’s Boom has become a seminal text keenly representing our country’s insatiable thirst for fancy new things and our forgotten heritage, told through the parallel stories of a property agent and his mother, and a civil servant and a literal unidentified corpse. Weaving in Hokkien with English, past with present, and a touch of magical realism, Boom is a poignant, powerful work that balances humour with its critical look at the history we sacrifice in the name of progress. Boom is now a popular play staged by tertiary level institutions, and this weekend, Yale-NUS theatre group (aside) has taken on the challenge of performing it. And we were happily surprised by how impressed we were with what they achieved.
Directed by Benson Pang, (aside)’s production of Boom went beyond just being a school production, and was very professionally done. Of note would be Rachel Lim’s simple but detailed set, succinctly packing the play’s key elements across an HDB flat. Yet, a dining table ends up doubling as an office cubicle, while a rattan two-seater becomes a grave simply by adding a makeshift headstone to it. As for the flat itself, it’s obvious that careful planning has gone into decorating, with objects including an oriental vase and Korean doll placed on mantelpieces, a familiar sight in so many local homes. Christer Aplin’s lighting design was also elegantly done, supporting the play with illumination as necessary, and occasionally, creative. To represent a tree for example, all that was required was a single spotlight partially obscured by branch-like patterns; seemingly obvious, but extremely effective. In addition, publicity photos (by Sean Cham) were tastefully and creatively curated and executed, and even the ticket design was beautiful.
One of Boom’s biggest issues to date remains its occasionally clunky script. There are times Jean Tay’s poetic verse and Hokkien/Singlish written in a single monologue threaten to clash, while her monologues have the potential to drag, and run the risk of droning on, particularly with the second act’s final string of three monologues, one after the other. But in this production, under strong direction and a capable cast, even the most awkward of lines rolled off actors’ tongues naturally, and this production really made Boom’s unique language its own. There are times Boom also veers towards melodrama, but here, characters’ emotions and backstories felt sincerely portrayed, allowing the audience to feel genuine affection for them.
The entire cast also suited their roles incredibly well. Of note would be Charlene Tan and Jiang Haolie as Female Adult and Male Adult respectively, taking turns to play property agents and nosy neighbours throughout the performance. Both of them get their comic timing just right, and Charlene Tan in particular, does a fabulous job of playing up her role as an exasperated chili padi of a Ministry director: commanding, demanding and believable. Young Mother Nathasha Lee and Young Father Ernest Chua had strong onstage chemistry, a believable young couple in love, and Nathasha Lee brought out her character’s innocence, an undeniable sincerity as we watch her eyes light up in pure joy when she steps in to her new home and owning her own place for the very first time.
Corpse Josef Woon delivered on the gravelly tones of his character, bringing out his undead qualities with slow, deep-voiced lines and impeccable makeup, while Daryl Yang as Jeremiah balanced comic relief with a strong character development arc as we watch the flustered civil servant turn partly into enthusiastic activist. Lim Shien Hian as Boon was a capable enough main character, fear on his face as he imagines his absent father appearing to him in a hallucination, while possessing very strong onstage chemistry with his aged mother in the many scenes they shared, bringing out the full extent of their intergenerational conflict while also showing genuine care for her. Shien Hian also did a good job of regressing into childhood as he played a younger version of his character, bringing the laughs as he rushed out onstage with a pair of red underwear over his face. As for the mother herself, Regina Ng was no doubt the standout actress of the night was no doubt Regina Ng as she perfectly portrayed her character’s physicality and brought a certain gravitas to the stage, balancing cheeky with stubborn determination, a real pillar of strength onstage.
As established as Boom already is, (aside) really made Boom their own production, and overall, delivered a professional yet deeply personal performance that made us simultaneously feel for its characters and reflect on the larger national themes at its core. It’s productions like Boom that make us feel incredibly warm and happy inside at having watched an incredibly competent cast and creative team put on, one they should be immensely proud of themselves for having done. A fine example of a ‘school’ production that can and will find success even outside of Yale-NUS, and if the creative team can continue to collaborate even after they graduate, it makes us fully believe in the future of the local arts scene.
Photo Credit: (aside)
Performance attended 3/11/17
Boom plays at the Yale-NUS College Black Box Theatre till 4th November. Tickets are sold out.