Arts Esplanade Theatre Studio Nine Years Theatre Review Singapore

★★★★★ Review: See You, Anniversary by Nine Years Theatre

Timely, immensely moving play reminding audiences to cherish all we have.

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%

What’s in an anniversary? For some people, it’s an arbitrary date in the calendar, used as a good reason to come together and celebrate an occasion with people who matter. For others, it runs much deeper than that, a triumphant acknowledgement of having reached another milestone for every year that goes by, remembrance for how far one has come since humbler beginnings, and the hope of continued success.

Coinciding with their 10th anniversary season, Nine Years Theatre (NYT) presents See You, Anniversary, an original two-hander play written and directed by NYT artistic director Nelson Chia. The play follows Kelvin (Nelson Chia) and Annie (Mia Chee), a couple who have been together for 29 years, from having children to starting a business. Amidst the many ups and downs, one thing they’ve always been able to do is celebrate their anniversary, year after year, as they reflect on the life they’ve built together.

Nelson Chia is no stranger to writing original works, and following the success of Between You And Me earlier this year, See You, Anniversary takes on a similarly naturalistic approach towards storytelling. From the beginning, we already know that Kelvin and Annie have been together for 29 years, and the joy of the play stems from how invested we become in this couple’s journey, from their first meeting to present day. Nelson’s writing feels real and has just the right amount of quirkiness (the anniversary falls on 29th February), a casualness to the conversations filled with everything from corny jokes to emotional outbursts that allows us to believe in and buy into their story. Kelvin and Annie’s relationship and love evolves naturally over the years, going from nervous, giddy graduates, to newlyweds developing their own private language and in-jokes, before finally becoming a mature couple with so many shared memories and experiences together, there is an ease and comfort to their interactions.

See You, Anniversary feels like a story about real people, with so many relatable moments that allow us to believe in its authenticity. In part, this is probably because of how many parallels there are to performers Nelson and Mia’s real lives, from knowing each other during their university days at NUS, to having twin daughters, to even starting a theatre company together (NYT). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that their onstage chemistry is pitch perfect, each playing heightened versions of themselves, and part of the fun is in wondering how much of Kelvin is Nelson, and how much of Annie is Mia. Even beyond that, there is an ease with which they slip into the roles, the line between performance and just being themselves blurred. In the hands of any other performers, See You Anniversary might have come off as trite, but this is a script that comes alive thanks to Nelson and Mia’s performance, and endear us to their characters throughout.

Every scene in the play is given weight and significance through Nelson and Mia’s performance. Whether it is an awkward candlelit dinner where Kelvin confesses to Annie, or the moment they find out Annie is pregnant, or how they plan to surprise each other on their anniversary, there is so much beauty in watching the love for these two characters blossom and change over time. In one particular standout moment, all Nelson and Mia have to do is gaze out at the audience, wide-eyed in wonder as they remember a perfect moment together watching fireworks go off, and there is an almost palpable atmosphere of gratitude one can feel in the air, thankful for each other being in their lives. Smooth costume changes and scene transitions help keep the play constantly moving, and tiny details, like how Annie’s phone changes over the years, are appreciated to further immerse us in their lives.

See You, Anniversary’s set is minimalist and practical requiring only a table and several chairs shifted around to represent the couple’s dining room, a bench or a restaurant, allowing us space to imagine each transformation. The nebulous wire sculptures hanging above make us think of bubbles of thought floating about, representing a life captured in memories. However, the one glaring issue is the patch of white flooring, that does more to distract than have any sense of purpose behind it, and overall does not add to play’s themes or narrative.

James Tan’s lighting allows us to focus our attention on the couple at all times, soft and relaxed. Most impressive of the design elements is Vick Low’s music compositions and sound design, not only capturing incidental sounds such as the whirr of a washing machine, but emotive, instrumental tracks that are designed for maximum emotional impact; even from the pre-show scenes, watching Mia as Annie eating a bag of crisps becomes remarkable with the soundtrack, and just a few notes is all it takes to cause tears to stream at the play’s emotional high point.

With each passing year, the surtitles keep count of how many years Kelvin and Annie have been together, from the time they’ve met to the years they’ve been married. It’s a reminder of how quickly time can pass, yet there are only so many moments that remain enmeshed in our memories. See You, Anniversary goes above and beyond being a celebration of NYT’s anniversary or Nelson and Mia’s lives together; it is a reflection on time and a reflection on what it means to have led a life well-spent. Watching as Kelvin and Annie grow into lives fully formed, we think of the time and people we’ve lost over the pandemic, and think of how temporal everything is, both bliss and pain. It is when we learn to cherish all that we have and all that we’ve experienced, that we can finally learn to live in the moment and look ahead into the future instead of holding on to the past.

Photo Credit: Yeo Siak Ling

See You, Anniversary plays from 15th to 25th September 2022 at the Drama Centre Black Box. Tickets available from SISTIC

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