Arts Review Singapore

Review: A Bird Calls You To Moscow by Joel Tan and Tan Shou Chen

A breakup in audio form, accompanied by piano music. 

There’s always something about piano music that’s irresistibly evocative, able to make the simplest of events feel like the end of the world. Simply hearing it is enough to provoke a reaction, and in A Bird Calls You To Moscow, helps create an excessive amount of heartbreak. Written by Joel Tan and directed by Tan Shou Chen, this audio drama was designed to be listened to while on the move, presenting the echoes of a couple on the verge of a breakup as you wander the city.

For the most part, the ambulatory aspects of the show seem more tacked on than integral to the experience, provoking listeners to imagine themselves living millennia in the future, where the world is in ruins and the audio drama we hear is ghosts from the past. The experience suggests places to listen to each episode – a room where love sleeps, or that of an ex-lover’s; a park where the trees are old; and a circular ride on public transport. It’s an interesting idea, but one that requires more scaffolding and precision, rather than relying on the mood of the audio alone to do the heavy lifting.

That aside, once the actual drama begins, stars Brendon Fernandez and Julie Wee do a great job of presenting a couple in crisis, as an unnamed musician (Fernandez) initiates a breakup with his partner (Wee), and inexplicably wants to travel to Moscow. Framing device and plot aside, the appeal of A Bird Calls You To Moscow is the chemistry that Fernandez and Wee have even as faceless voices in our listening devices, and we can imagine them as a couple of seven years. 

Joel Tan’s writing is often wrapped up in lengthy extended metaphors and lofty language that too often, dilutes the traumatic effects of a breakup happening in real time. Much of this doesn’t do favours for Brandon’s character, who ends up feeling like the ‘villain’ in the breakup despite understanding his need to ‘escape’. But due to the dream-like atmosphere created by Ng Jing and Daniel Wong’s sound design, accompanied by pianist Albert Tiu’s rendition of classical pieces by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, it is the parts rooted in nostalgia and memory that are most successful at evoking emotion. This is most clearly seen in the second episode, as Julie’s character recalls how she first met her partner. ‘We were inseparable, but now we are not,’ she muses, and we well and truly feel her loss from the ache in her voice, relatable to anyone who’s ever been at the receiving end of a breakup.

While A Bird Calls You To Moscow plays out more or less as expected, the beauty of the piece lies in its ability to use sound and music to bring us to a place, time and feeling, going beyond words to understand the trauma and shock that a breakup can leave on a person.

A Bird Calls You To Moscow is available on Soundcloud and Youtube. More information available here

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