Wild Rice opens their series of Director’s Residency programmes with a mother-daughter tale about hoarding.
When you hear the term ‘hoarder’, the first image that comes to mind is likely a person dwarfed by heaps and heaps of paraphernalia in her own home, immediately labelled as having some sort of ‘problem’. But the truth is, it’s hard to tell a hoarder from a non-hoarder, often finding the truth only when you visit their homes or when you really get to know them. And for all we know, there’s a logic to their actions and value to their things that perhaps, we simply don’t understand yet.
That issue is what lies at the heart of Tan Suet Lee’s Mine, the first play presented as part of Wild Rice’s Directors’ Residency series. Directed by Thong Pei Qin. the play shines a spotlight on a ‘collector’, Molly (Karen Tan), and how her need to hold on to everything she has comes under scrutiny as she and her daughter Su-Lin (Chanel Chan) dig through the mess.
From the moment we step into the theatre, we’re already greeted with Wong Chee Wai’s cluttered stage, with plastic bags all over the floor, and piled to the ceiling. The play opens as Su-Lin sits at a table with a laptop, and the all-important bottle of Febreeze. To her horror, her boyfriend Steven is surprising her with a visit to Singapore, and plans to stay with her instead of a hotel. Su-Lin naturally fears him discovering her living conditions, staying in this house full of her mother’s collection.
Molly then strolls in, and manoeuvres around the house like a pro, knowing where to twist and turn amidst the chaos. Karen Tan is a star, and fully committed to her role here, embodying the spirit of a mischievous aunty, hyperaware of her actions, yet acting nonchalant about it. With streaks of grey in her hair and a dishevelled outfit, Karen encapsulates the look and feel of a woman lost in her own world, repeating how she doesn’t like it when people touch her things.
After much deliberation with each other, and a story that Su-Lin fabricated, the two then compromise to do something about the situation. But after days of cleaning up, the task turns out much more challenging than Su-Lin thinks, and they are back at square one. To her, it really is just a matter of deciding between keeping or throwing things. But to Molly, everything in the room is precious, full of things Su-Lin will inherit one day. In Molly’s eyes, Su-Lin was willing to give up this ‘inheritance’, and toss everything she’s grown up with for the sake of impressing a man she’s never even met in person.
What impressed me most was how Thong Pei Qin understood each of her actor’s capabilities, her thorough research process exemplified by her actors’ execution of their movements onstage. Under all the clutter, treasures are found and stories are uncovered bit by bit. But as more truths and contradictory proof are found under all the clutter, Su-Lin begins to doubt the stories Molly used to tell her, and she begins to wonder which story is real, and which one is fake. At the same time, another part of the show is being unravelled. As we see the continued conversation Su-Lin is having with Steven, she begins to ‘hoard’ lie after lie, burying herself deeper, much like the clutter around her.
As more truths are uncovered, some going back almost 30 years, Su-Lin starts to find out more about herself and her family. Frustrations began to grow between both of them, and in a fit of rage, Su-Lin sets Molly’s favourite tea towel collection on fire, and it becomes an inferno that consumes all of Molly’s things. Drowned in smoke, everything is now engulfed in flames, and we hear the sirens of the fire engines and police cars. As Molly looks at the fire swallowing up all the treasures she has kept for so long, she holds on tightly to one last bag in her arms, and just stands there and cries. It’s an emotional moment, and Karen again, does such a beautiful job in portraying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, as we see the fear in her eyes of losing everything she has.
Now as the clutter is cleared, it seems as if there is a weight lifted off her shoulders, further emphasised when the fly bar lifts the trash bags up. Mother and daughter reminisce, and realise that all they have left is each other. There are times Tan Suet Lee’s script is lacking, where many of the stories uncovered remain too underdeveloped to anchor us to them. But on the other hand, it is where we see Thong Pei Qin shine, from making us feel claustrophobic at the start yet so free at the end, and her ability to bring out the nuances and magnify the important details in her characters with what little she has to work with. We understand that each and every one of us carry baggage, both literal and emotional, and the pressing need to declutter from time to time, uncovering the treasures and memories we have hoarded.
Mine played from 26th to 28th November 2020 at Wild Rice @ Funan.