ThreeWoods Playwright brings a rare cultural gem to Fringe audiences set in a contentious point in history between Taiwan and China. Smoking With Grandma was written and directed by Cathy SK Lam.
A sense of stillness and intrigue enveloped me as I entered the theatre in darkness. The stage lit only by a single pendant light and smoke projected on the black curtain.
Maia Lee, played by Katherine Leung Ki Kwan, sets foot on stage and looks at the Taiwanese flag as Grandma, played by Angel SY Chan emerges from the front row of the audience.
“Why do we live in Hong Kong? Aren’t we from Taiwan?” asks Maia.
The play is told from the perspectives of both women and speaks volumes about the displacement that refugees experience when they are torn from their homeland. Grandma refers to refugees as ‘the eternal foreigner’ or ‘driftwood’.
Maia, a talented dancer, incorporated elements of dance and drama into her performance as she reminisced on her Grandma’s life before the transfer of sovereignty in Hong Kong.
Her Grandma spent many years in Tiu Keng Leng, Hong Kong’s former refugee village, and was longing to return home. During the play, she counted the days waiting, and one sensed the trepidation in her hope of salvation.
The set was minimal with a single chair and many projections aiding the production, including English translations of Grandma’s monologues, spoken in her native tongue.
Throughout the play, Grandma shares some thought-provoking ideas, “…it’s already history” and “they think a caged bird sings, when really it cries.” She smokes her pipe and describes smoking as a metaphor for never being alone.
A memorable moment was a scene with a music box where both actresses moved in unison, like ballerinas. Tasteful directorial devices such as these emphasised the bond between Maia and Grandma.
Rarely do audiences get treated to work from Asia in the Fringe. In light of global social issues, this moving work remains relevant and insightful in the current political climate.
Reviewed performance: 1 March 2018
Season: 28 February – 10 March 2018
Venue: The Bakehouse Theatre