By Juliet Jacobs
Taking time off their rehearsal schedule, Lim How Ngean, Loh Kok Man and Reza Zainal Abidin discuss their latest project, “Within / Without – two sides revealed”.
Three directors, three performers (Melissa Saila, Nell Ng, and Lim Tiong Wooi), and three monologues inspired by works of three Asian playwrights (Kuo Pao Kun, Leow Puay Tin and Alfian Sa’at). Tell us more.
Lim How Ngean: Three directors re-imagine, deconstruct, reshape, and edit excerpts of two monologues from a single play script. These two monologues are supposed to have opposing sides to the same story. I chose Kuo Pao Kun’s “Spirits Play” for my texts; Kok Man uses Leow Puay Tin’s “Ang Tau Mui” and Reza’s is inspired by Alfian Sa’at’s “Madu II”.
Reza Zainal Abidin: Everyone has a story. A story should not, or is never, one-sided. You are not totally right or totally wrong.
Whose brainchild was this project, in the first place?
LHN: Technically, it was I who first approached Kok Man, and then Reza, to share a slot with me. I was thinking of working with Kok Man and Reza on a single production – sharing some common ideas but taking separate directorial responsibilities.
RZA: Fred found the space and dealt initially with KLPac. But it was my work with “Madu II” — a play about two women who are married to the same man — that triggered the whole “Within / Without” idea.
Why these three pieces, in particular? Was it a difficult selection process?
LHN: I chose Pao Kun’s “Spirits Play” because I find more resonance with well-written scripts in this region than, say, from the West. Pao Kun’s scripts are remarkably written, and they stand the test of time. I have always been involved in theatre that use texts from this part of the world, and it was just a natural progression to use “Spirits Play”. Also, this is a “testing ground” for me — to see if working on a full-length staging of the play, in the future, is feasible.
Loh Kok Man: I chose Puay Tin’s “Ang Tau Mui” because I fell in love with the letter Ang Tau Mui — the titular character, a toilet cleaner — wrote for her idol, Hong Kong star Ling Dai.
RZA: Choosing the piece wasn’t difficult for me.
Was it conscious decision to make these three separate stories intertwine for this production?
LHN: I always wanted some linkage, in theme or structural motif, for all three of us. It makes our work more focused — hence more challenging. It’s also more interesting for the audience, to have three very different performances in one night with an over-arching structure.
RZA: Yes, we felt there must be some connection. But will it materialise? Not sure.
Tell us about the performers — Lim Tiong Wooi, Nell Ng and Melissa Saila – how / why were they selected for their respective roles?
LHN: Nell has wanted to do something with me for the longest time, and I had aborted another project which she would have been in. So, when this project came along, it was natural for me to ask her again. Having done comedy for a while, Nell has untapped reservoirs of physicality, movement and emotional depth.
LKM: I selected Tiong Wooi because she is beautiful.
RZA: I needed a versatile Malay-speaking actor.
Tell us some of the team’s quirks.
LHN: Kok Man, who is also our lighting designer, is very meticulous in his questioning of the directors’ choices in the performance. In his asking of questions, I — as a director – actually find myself clarifying my strategies and choices.
LKM: I’m a serious person … I’m not funny at all …
RZA: We panic first, then we calm down. Then we solve the problem.
What are rehearsals like? Any stories to share?
LKM: Tiong Wooi was formally trained at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, but some of the things I want her to do in my piece is different from her training. So, sometimes we spend more time trying to break her out of the methods she has learnt.
RZA: Fred has the longest rehearsal hours — which scares me, so I extend my hours, too.
Tell us the worst joke you’ve heard from the cast or crew.
RZA: None. We don’t joke.
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
LHN: I have been doing theatre for the past 15 years — but am still very green in the field!
LKM: I’m a young theatre practitioner, not bad-looking, single; I’m always exploring new things …
RZA: Teacher / actor / writer / translator / wardrobe consultant / director.
Give us the gossip on your next projects.
LKM: I’m doing another drama project with my students at New Era College in June called “Locked Repot”. I’m also planning to have a sound and visual performance, under Pentas Project, which should be staged at KLPac in October.
RZA: I’m going to be dancing. Ha ha!
What’s irony to you?
LHN: Talent that does not need honing, training or skill.
RZA: Some English term that I always confuse with something else.
Who / what inspires you?
LHN: Honest and truthful artists: Krishen Jit, Marion D’Cruz, Kok Man, Nam Ron. Honest and truthful performances.
LKM: I’m inspired every time I see something new and interesting.
RZA: Television, DVDs, movies, books. Sometimes my students.
First Published: 17.05.2007 on Kakiseni