The Studios 2018: An Interview with Faith Ng (A Good Death)

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The Esplanade’s 2018 season of The Studios begins this week and this time around, present a series of works centering around the theme ‘Between Living and Dying’ , questioning how best to make the most of our limited time on earth. Starting off the season, we have playwright Faith Ng with her latest play A Good Death, marking her first new work since last year’s Whale Fall. 

Directed by Chen Yingxuan, A Good Death stars Karen Tan as palliative care doctor Dr Leong as she shares about her life and the final days of her many patients. An emotionally draining job, Dr Leong presses on and hears out her patients’ hopes and fears, while her own personal life begins to seep into the professional, as her own family argues about how best to handle their own ageing parents’ eventual deaths. How then can one truly decide what makes for a ‘good’ and dignified deaths, and whose decision is it ultimately?

Tackling such a heavy topic can be immensely difficult, and we spoke to Faith on the inspiration behind such a poignant piece and her own challenges in writing the script. Read the interview in full below:

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Faith Ng. Photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre.

Bakchormeeboy: What was the inspiration behind A Good Death?

Faith: I met an old friend of mine who came for my previous show, Normal. She was training to be a palliative care physician. She shared with me some of her personal experiences and how the profession had stretched and challenged her as a human being. Caring for patients in their final chapters is not easy—you have to confront your deepest fears and convictions about what it means to live a good life and to die a good death. It takes a great deal of strength to do this and can take a mental toll on you. 

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Karen Tan in rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Bakchormeeboy: A Good Death has some pretty heavy themes surrounding the meaning of life and facing our own mortality. Were there any big difficulties, moral or emotional you might have faced in writing this piece? 

Faith: When you’re writing about such heavy themes, it can be easy to be heavy-handed and manipulate them for dramatic effect. Rather than do that, I decided that I would be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible and let the characters and their stories speak for themselves. 

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Karen Tan (far right) in Normal. Photo courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre

Bakchormeeboy: You’ve worked with Karen Tan before on plays like Normal. What was the reason you decided that she would be the best fit to perform this solo piece?

Faith: My director, Chen Yingxuan and I, felt that Karen’s virtuosity as a performer, and her known generosity in sharing her thoughts and personal experiences on the rehearsal floor, made her the perfect fit.  

Bakchormeeboy: What kind of message or thoughts do you hope to evoke in audience members after catching A Good Death?

Faith: I hope they go home and hug their loved ones a little harder. And that we begin to see that death and dying is everyone’s business, not just those in palliative care; that we can look out for and look after each other a little better. 

A Good Death plays at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from 29th March – 1st April. Tickets available from the Esplanade

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