The Audience Was Carried Away By This Poetic Play

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I have to admit, I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about carried away on the crest of a wave. Written by David Yee, directed by Kim Collier, and based on the 2004 tsunami, I knew the subject matter would probably be difficult to deal with. And given that this play runs two and a half hours (including intermission) I was worried it would be an exhausting experience. Although the subject matter was as dark as I was expecting, the play did not feel as long or as depressing as I was expecting it to.

I had a feeling the play would be much more interesting than I anticipated once I saw the stage. The set was simple but absolutely perfect for this play. Only the props and smaller set pieces appeared realistic – everything else was more abstract. Instead of curtains, plastic sheets hung from the ceiling, and a blank background allowed for different colours of light to be used to represent the location of each scene. The plastic sheets were also used as props when they were dragged across the stage to mimic the waves of the tsunami. It was simple, and yet perfect, as it added to the atmosphere without detracting from the story.

Another notable element of the set and lighting were signs set up at the edge of the stage. Each sign had a place name and a date and corresponded to one of the nine scenes of the play. The play was comprised of nine different stories from different points of view about the tsunami, so these light-up signs indicated not only the beginning of the scene but the geographical and temporal context of the story we were about to watch. Overall, the scenes complimented one another as they explored different effects the tsunami had on different people around the world. However, the different scenes were not alway entirely cohesive in their style. There were four scenes/stories that were absolutely perfect in their execution and presented deep and meaningful moments, but three others that could have used some refinement. The other two, I think should have been cut entirely. One of these scenes was just significantly weaker than the rest across all areas; it was so abstract and metaphorical that it just did not fit in with the rest of the play at all.

I think one of the main contributing factors as to why some scenes were weaker than others was the use of the language.  From studying theatre in university I have learned that some plays are better read, some are better seen in performance, and occasionally there are plays that are wonderful both ways.  Although a very good performance was derived from this play, I feel as if David Yee’s work would have better enjoyed read.  This is due to the language and tone he used.  In the advertisements from the NAC, this was presented as a play with poetic language and I find that plays like that are often better appreciated as texts, rather than performances.  Some of the scenes had language that was more natural and/or colloquial, whereas other scenes were created with a more poetic language and tone.  I feel as if some of the actors may have struggled with this as some of the more poetic moments of dialogue came across as clunky and a little awkward.  But if I had been reading those lines in the play text I feel I would have appreciated the beauty of the language and imagery a lot more.

Overall this was a well composed play.  The sets, props, and lighting were all perfect, and  the scene changes were creative and artistic.  Perhaps in other interpretations and performances, the refinement needed in some of the weaker scenes could make the overall play feel a little more cohesive, although I think that some of the issues regarding this come from the actual play text itself.  Despite the fact that some scenes may not have been as strong as others, the scenes that were flawlessly executed delivered some very powerful messages that are still relevant to this day.  I am very glad that this play turned out to be far better than I expected.

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