Sedition feels like an additional character in Jean Tong’s Malaysian centric new work – as the lights came up in the Lawler theatre, I felt somewhat unoptimistic about any forthcoming Kuala Lumper season.
With its title orientated in Chinese Buddhism, “Hungry Ghosts” are said to be insatiable beings occurring because of their greed, envy and jealousy and often in unfortunate circumstances such as the death of an entire family. Fitting then, that along with sedition, the other hovering menace within Tong’s play is the disappearance of flight MH370 and the conspiratorial connections to corruption within Malaysian Government.
Described as a post traumatic play, Hungry Ghosts is both complex and challenging. While conscious in its use of multiple characters and threads, commentary on national themes does give echo to a central, more personal narrative around culture, loss, belonging, patriotism and identity.
Petra Kalive’s direction feels as incisive and as intelligent as the piece itself with clear evidence of collaboration with all credited artistic contributors. Darius Kedros perfectly underscores an evocative text with a tension inducing soundscape. Recognisable cabin sounds and announcements run parallel with subsea echo to create genuine discomfort by arousing potential fears and reservations about flying.
With impressive and supportive lighting by Emma Valente, Eugyeene The’s incredibly clever and versatile set conjures further fuselage fear not only in its ability to assemble and dissemble but also to offer through window witness to the might or might not have happened to those unfortunately on that aircraft.
Largely an ensemble piece, Emina Ashman, Jing-Xuan Chan and Bernard Sam deftly convey the cultural and linguistic makeup of the country they each, as actors, have a personal connection with. While advantaged in being semi protagonist, Jing-Xuan Chan is worthy of note for a vocally strong and focussed performance that, even during passages not delivered in English felt painful in truthfulness.
While more knowledge of political occurrences and climate in Malaysia would certainly deepen the experience, minimal awareness is by no means a detraction from the sentiments the play provokes.
Questioning, visually evocative and lingeringly emotional, Hungry Ghosts feels fresh and current and a most worthy piece of programming to reach out intelligently to new audiences as part of MTC’s award-winning Education program aimed at making connections with thousands of students across Victoria every year.
by Jean Tong
Director Petra Kalive
Venue: Southbank Theatre, The Lawler VIC
Dates: 3 – 19 May 2018