Left – Jamie Lewis. Photo – Sarah Walker. Cover – Joe Lui. Photo – Simon Pynt
Attending a performance of Jamie Lewis's Saltwater is like attending a dinner party at a friend's home, the difference is that you are dining with strangers. This is interactive theatre and the spectators are drawn, quite naturally and without embarrassment, into the developing story.
We are greeted on arrival, shown where to leave our coats and bags, and where to wash our hands, before sitting around a large circular table. We are then given bean sprouts to top and tail – I'd always just washed and thrown mine into the pot whole and it turned out that most present were learning, like myself, the correct way of preparing bean sprouts.
Conversation naturally developes amongst the 'guests', interspersed with Jamie sharing stories of her life in Singapore, where she grew up, and her current life here in Melbourne. She is now married to an Australian and living and working in a culture which is very different from the one in which she grew up. Memories are shared, cultures and traditions compared, whilst we sample a meal which in Jamie's family is kept for special occasions.
Engrossed in chatting and exchanging stories, one tends to forget that we are part of a performance. At the end of the hour I felt content and relaxed. It was only later that the impact of the experience came to mind: an exchange of knowledge and experiences (sometimes similar, sometimes very different) leaves you thinking about personal histories, place and belonging. There is a sense of having come to understand more about yourself and others, to better understand the things we share, despite our differences.
Letters Home couldn't be more different in structure and tone to Saltwater. This solo work is written and performed by Perth-based artist Joe Lui. We are now in a more traditional theatre setting, with rows of seats facing an enclosed space. Furnishing is sparse and effective – rear left a barn-like corner with straw and a stool, right foreground a beautiful circular red Chinese table with two chairs placed on a round carpet with a 'chandelier' of red Chinese lanterns above. Behind this are some rustic shelves and on the top shelf is a relatively small, rectangular 'mirror' onto which video images are projected.
Lui is dressed in a black T-shirt and pants over which he wears a beautiful Chinese patterned, red robe. Sitting on the stool he begins to 'write' a letter to his parents but has trouble getting started. He leaps to centre stage, immediately engaging his audience, and tells us that he needs smoke, music and applause if he is to perform. He then walks out through black curtains at the back of the stage. Cue music and smoke. Lui makes a grand entrance to ecstatic applause. So the journey begins.
Lui's performance is at times loud and in your face, at others gentle and meditative. There are moments of deep emotion, love, anger, joy and shared laughter. His is a highly personal story of his struggles as a person, as an artist, as an immigrant, as a Renegade. Traditional Chinese myths and legends are interspersed with personal stories, questions about the role of art and the value of reading and education. In choosing to be an artist, Lui failed to take the road his parents wanted for him.
Lui captures and holds his audience from the start and offers insights into a journey that ultimately shares much in common with the journeys each of us have taken in our search for identity and belonging. Cultures may differ but human beings have the same basic need to discover who they are, or want to be, as well as their place in the society in which they choose to live.
Saltwater and Letters Home, with their contrasting approaches to theatre and story-telling, are an entertaining, moving and thought provoking double bill. It is certainly worth catching both of them.
Theatre Works presents
Saltwater & Letters Home
Saltwater by Jamie Lewis | Letters Home by Joe Lui
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland Street St Kilda
Dates: 1 – 12 July 2015
Times: Monday – Sunday, times vary. Visit website for full details
Tickets: $30 – $25 | Double Bill Tickets: both shows $50 – $40 | *Letters Home Wednesday 01 July - All tickets $20
Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au | (03) 9534 3388