Arts Review Singapore

★★☆☆☆ Review: Surviving Hope by The Flux Media

Clash of ideas turn a simple family melodrama into overwrought fever dream.

Looking at the rising divorce rates in Singapore and around the world, it is all too easy to blame it on flaky couples who lack commitment, precluding the collapse of the institution of marriage and the family unit. But the reality is, relationships are much more complicated than simply signing a paper, and there are times that it is much better for two people in a toxic marriage to leave rather than stay on, even for the ‘sake of the child’.

In The Flux Media’s play Surviving Hope, playwright Ivan Lim takes inspiration from real stories exploring notions of hope and mental wellness to craft a production that sheds light on life’s hidden experiences, and aims to inspire the audience to accept themselves for who they are, no matter how the world changes. Directed by Shana Yap, Surviving Hope primarily follows the central storyline of a couple on the brink of divorce, leaving their young child in a state of confusion and panic, as the family works to navigate the breakup.

Surviving Hope seems to be pure in its intent of wanting to create a play that moves and reflects the realities of life, and in fact, its central storyline holds a lot of promise. However, the play faces an issue of trying to do too much beyond that core narrative, and results in a less than cohesive production, with scenes that are awkwardly inserted, or confusing transitions.

Right from the beginning, we’re introduced to the cast via a participatory game, where audience members are given various labels, such as ‘the failure’ or ‘the one who dies a virgin’, and are tasked to assign them to the cast member they feel it most fits. While one understands the intent of raising awareness of how judgmental we can be through such an uncomfortable exercise, the participatory aspect is never seen again throughout the play, nor is the theme of stereotypes, and as such, feels tacked on for the sake of it.

In a similar vein, other deviations from the core storyline feel like odd directorial choices that feel like they’re being done for the sake of tackling more issues. In a standalone scene, actress Adi Amon Mesika recounts a memory where she is followed by a man she labels as ‘crazy’ (itself already a problematic phrase), before being rescued by a ‘guardian angel’. And in the final scene, all five cast members take turns reading letters they penned themselves, in no particularly significant order, ending the play on a flat note. Both of these feel out of place, and lack a direct link to the play.

The actual story itself somewhat makes sense, as we witness the decline of the central family and the impact it has on their child. The only problem is how generic it feels, to the point that none of the characters have names (or gender), and it becomes difficult to form any kind of emotional connection to these characters beyond their plight. Certainly, there are attempts to implement interesting staging, and director Shana Yap does her best to change things up; midway through, Nini Chaiyanara, who plays one of the parents, launches into a song about her sadness, while in another scene, Risa Ann Wong, who plays the child, enters an imaginary world where she fights off ‘mindflayers’ and other beasts.

However, that is not enough to make the play feel tight and cohesive, with far too many elements or scenes that feel like they’re there to pad the runtime, rather than meaningfully contribute to the overarching story. Early on, Risa and her two imaginary friends (James Lee and Miranda Ng Pohlin) retell the Hansel and Gretel story almost in its entirety, but for no discernible reason besides illustrating how she feels her parents are abandoning her. Neither of the imaginary friends are given much to do either, and feel extraneous rather than necessary each time they appear.

What does work is the core conflict between Nini and Adi (who plays Nini’s partner), as they draw out their troubled history with each other, escalating from mere annoyance to outright yelling at each other (to the point it even results in a near fatal accident). Unfortunately, this is the extent of their characterisation, which otherwise is hastily explained in a single scene where they both air their grievances in a rant. Of the characters, they are the two most interesting ones, but never given quite enough development to really feel for. Adi in particular, is given an opportunity to speak about the immense pressure she’s going through, in an intense choreographed number, but this happens far too late into the play to make up for her otherwise nondescript character.

In short, the play says a lot to achieve very little, and ultimately, feels like it drags out a simple story without giving us the necessary scenes or opportunity to fully appreciate the struggles of this family or what they’re going through. Within the play there are flashes and moments that show potential, but for the most part, are drowned out by the noise of everything else that’s jammed into the script, and ultimately, pedestrian.

Surviving Hope ran from 2nd to 4th September 2022 at Gateway Arts Centre Black Box. More information on The Flux Media available here

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