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Review: That Day That Book That Fell by Grain Performance and Research Lab

Should the past be left in the past?

As the former artistic director of defunct theatre company Theatre OX, Ang Gey Pin has never stopped searching for new ways of performing theatre, particularly with her initiative, Sourcing Within, with a strong focus on intercultural, inter-lingual and interdisciplinary explorations. Now, Ang has finally put the last 8 months of exploration and research to the test, distilling it into the new work That Day That Book That Fell.

Co-created and performed by Ang and Ranice Tay, That Day That Book That Fell is a decidedly abstract work, with no clear narrative and a meandering direction. Originally performed in the Arts House Play Den, and recorded for digital streaming, the performance begins as both Ang and Ranice vigorously clean and disinfect the space, as if ensuring the work starts off on a clean slate.

Taking the idea of an empty room holding endless possibility, e performance begins proper when Ranice picks up a book with Chinese characters on its cover, poring over its contents as she flips the pages. It is almost as if she is learning all she can about the past, as a transformation begins to happen. Both Ranice and Ang change from their more contemporary outfits into more loose-fitting, earth tone garments, reminiscent of religious acolytes. In a way, it seems the book’s contents have taken over the space, possessing both performers, and compelling them to perform scenes from the past.

What follows is a medley of non-sequitur scenes, as both performers shift from one character to another, bringing history to life by speaking these ancient lines from the book, and embodying these people. The performances are over-the-top affairs, raising their voices and leaping and jumping across the stage, in a show of their physical control. It feels dream-like, as Ranice and Tay almost play games with each other, perhaps in the hopes of using these activities as a way to understand themselves better.

Drawing inspiration from Chinese culture, there are times they recite poetry, or begin to play serving girls serving odd food items, such as ‘claw chowder with a side of sorrow’ or ‘linguini with self-pity’. They sing, they chant, and we wonder, are they trying to preserve the past by performing all these, in a bid to prevent their memory from fading away? Perhaps it could be interpreted as a theatrical ritual of a sorts, as they try to revive these forgotten traditions and resurrect them in our memory.

The result then, seems to be a desperate cry for audiences today to recall the past, to learn to find a way to bring it all back to life, afraid of the speed at which we move as we leave our history far behind us. But because of how esoteric it is, That Day That Book That Fell invites far more questions than it does answers, and we begin to wonder who exactly benefits from preserving these ideas and styles. The performance is hopeful, chaotic and dream-like as they seem to float across the stage with their movements. And perhaps that is exactly what the past is relegated to – a wayward daydream fast disappearing, living on only in the memories of those who put the effort into remembering them.

That Day That Book That Fell was available as video-on-demand on 2nd and 3rd July 2021. More information available here

The Remembering Resource (II) ran at The Arts House and online from 18th June to 3rd July 2021. More information available here

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