Arts Review Theatre

★★★★☆ Review: almost home《我以为家》by The Theatre Practice

Ng Mun Poh considers what home means to her in a one woman show.

The Matrix is based on elements the show credits in its programme, and awards stars based on the following cut-off points:
1 Star: <40%
2 Stars: 40-54%
3 Stars: 55-69%
4 Stars: 70-84%
5 Stars: >85%

Born in Kuala Lumpur and based in Singapore, theatremaker Ng Mun Poh has spent the last 18 years of her life travelling between her two “homes”. But over the last few years, Mun Poh suddenly found herself caught in two minds as she wondered to herself – does she really belong in either country?

Originally performed as part of The Theatre Practice’s It’s Not About The Numbers series in September 2021, Mun Poh’s story has now been reimagined for a black box space, with the premiere of her monodrama almost home. Directed by Yeo Lyle, with dramaturgy by Neo Hai Bin, almost home dramatises the struggle of finding her place in a home where nothing, and yet so much has changed.

almost home adopts a relatively simple, pared down set-up – the space is sparse and blank, save for a single grey cube and a large black backpack. In the pre-show segment, we hear a combination of Malay, Cantonese and Chinese songs, languages Mun Poh is fluent in and switches between over the course of the show. She begins by singing Dick Lee’s ‘Home’ in Chinese, a familiar tune we know by heart as Singaporeans, and we can’t help but join in and sing-along when prompted, only to be stopped when she quips that this isn’t the National Day Parade.

almost home quickly establishes itself a deeply personal performance that allows Mun Poh to introduce herself and expound on her identity as a Singapore-based Malaysian, as she tells us her about her life in Petaling Jaya (PJ), 337km away. She ponders over the many ways there are to get home, where it could take between 4-6 hours by bus, or an hour by plane. While it’s not exactly far, it’s also not close by, and she explains how things get especially bad during the Lunar New Year, where jams are aplenty, and Malaysians everywhere do whatever it takes to get a ticket, with chances so slim, it’s almost like playing the lottery.

Throughout the performance, Mun Poh breaks the fourth wall, addressing us directly, and in the intimacy of the Practice Space, we feel closer than ever to her, almost as if we’re travelling on that same journey with her, occupying the same space she does in her memories, as she takes us back to her time growing up in PJ old town, evoking the memory of cockroaches and mosquitoes all around, and the lack of air-con. Mun Poh is also particularly skilled in her mimicry of other characters, from her aunty who confuses her, ranting about watching the TV, and being watched by the TV, to her own mother, who is always busy serenading the occupants of the house.

As she compares her life back then to her life in Singapore, she realises how much more comfort she has now, and how spending so much time here has inevitably shaped the way she sees the world, forming new opinions of her home when she returns to Malaysia. She begins to realise that while she does still appreciate returning home to Malaysia, she also begins to question what exactly her reasons are each time she goes back, over and over again. This leads her to dive even further into her memories, vividly recounting a good friend who would drive her around in their blue Kelisa. She remembers how she would have boys in her adolescence, and how she would have such a romanticised view of life, and how that would somehow have led to to come to Singapore, and base herself there for 18 years.

What remains throughout the performance is Mun Poh’s constant push and pull between Malaysia and Singapore; as much as she remembers her Malaysian pride, experiencing the high of cheering on Lee Chong Wei in the badminton finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, she also recalls the many phone calls urgently asking her to head home, and calls her own filial piety into question. She recalls her own father passing away, and how she crawled her way to the casket to say a final goodbye, the lights shining down on the tiles, almost creating a silhouette, reminding her of the home she grew up in. As she says ‘Father, I am back’, the memories begin to flood her mind, back to better days spent with him. In this moment, her emotions and grief are almost palpable as she speaks, filling the space as we feel for her, and her bond with her father.

That perhaps, is the trigger for her truly questioning where she belongs and who she is, as she realises how she had no idea how her father wanted to his funeral proceedings to go, questioning herself over the ‘right’ thing to do. In returning to the house, she feels assured in her actions, and when she returns again on 6th April 2022, she realises that there is a beauty in the familiarity, how everything from the old street to the smell of the house has remained the same all this time. As she heads home, she meticulously washes her clothes and hangs them on the clothesline, almost poetic and reflective as she seems to finally be comfortable being herself, free to hang like the clothes in the sun, the wind blowing.

With the sounds of rain clouds rolling in from left to right, Mun Poh empties her bag, as if letting go of her own fears and insecurities and all her emotional baggage. She is comfortable in the space, over her turmoil as she realises that as much time as she’s spent away, she’s still the same person, still holding on to those memories she made growing up in PJ. As much time as she’s spent away, some things just don’t change do they? From the familiarity of the mosquitoes to her mother’s singing, home is where the heart is, home is a place of constancy. And even when things might seem to have changed, there is comfort each time she returns, knowing in her heart with everything she feels that this is home.

Photos courtesy of The Theatre Practice, photo credit to Tuckys Photography

almost home ran from 14th to 18th September at The Theatre Practice, 54 Waterloo Street.

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