Written by Tang Rei-En, Anna Leong, and Lo Yee
A highly conceptual and collaborative effort, People ambitiously takes on the weighty subject of human relationships with remarkable grace. Fourteen lives, each from very different backgrounds, parallel and intersect around the time of a Japanese earthquake. It sits on middle ground; the characters are tragic but not despairingly so, hopeful without being naive.
The set-up was sparse, with a beautifully architectural stage and muted colour palette to direct the focus towards the individual characters. This proved to be a double-edged sword for the cast, who appeared to be dwarfed in the space at the start, but gradually warmed up to it as the play went on.
The first act of People started off rather slowly, due to the sheer number of introductions they had to make for each character. One wonders if there was such a need for that many characters to be introduced, for it felt at times that each character had a little bit more to say than the time that was given to them. Juggling the array of characters compromised the depth of the roles, and it often seemed that the earthquake was an incredibly tenuous link in unifying the cast. Here’s where People may have fell short of certain expectations.
That being said, there was never a boring moment, the audience’s interest piqued with each time the storylines intertwined in the second act. The choice of characters was also interesting, as it reflected a range of individuals and perspectives that may otherwise remain unexplored. Maybe that was how the play was meant to be, lives crashing messily into one another, beyond containment or control, almost too much for us to keep up with, yet all still crying out for the universal need to feel wanted and loved.
Each actor was able to negotiate the intricacies of the many characters they had to portray, and brought life to each separate story. Special mention should be made for Lynette Wong and Fiona Pay who played the poetically neurotic Lily and the ballsy Nurse Chong respectively. They never failed to engage the audience’s attention in every scene they were in, and were a delight to watch on stage. Darren Yeo’s nuanced approach to his characters was also one to watch, as he switched seamlessly between incredibly different characters with breathtaking ease.
Thankfully, the potentially solemn affair was buoyed by many disarmingly lighthearted moments. Credit largely goes to brilliant dialogue from scriptwriter Joel Tan, who managed to nail some of the most endearing linguistic quirks of Singaporean Ah Bengs and taxi uncles. Kudos to Foo Jun Sheng as well, for being equally fluent in both Japanese business talk in one scene and Hokkien cuss words in another. These characters were charming and authentic, keeping everyone laughing so that we might identify more dearly with their heartbreak.
So the story ends, the earthquake bringing both reconciliation and ruin upon these fourteen souls. The circumstances may be beyond their control, but as they recognize the profound significance of and the painfully dire need for people in their lives, they mercifully choose to reach out a hand and hold on to each other. The story has come full circle, with many meaningful detours in between.