Nostalgiaa wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time Other dictionary definitions replace the wistful with a taste "bittersweet", or more simply, "The condition of being homesick; homesickness", which in 1770 was classified a disease.
J: You know, people like to talk about the past.
J: They seem happiest when they talk about the past.
Y: As in...
J: Like how guys talk about army, your mom likes to tell us about her childhood...
J: Well, the thing is that those times are probably rather miserable, but when they talk about it, all that is miserable feels like it wasn't there or wasn't as miserable. People love to reminisce,
Y: I see,
J: I wonder if it's only like that here. I've never lived anywhere else before.
Typically, the most popular chinese language drama series on TV is set in Singapore's past, the pre-independence years. Those were tough times of war, colonisation, poverty - and hardship makes for good drama.
Some of the most popular and mainstream works on the Singapore stage are also set in similar times. I remember Kuo Pao Kun's Lao Jiu, recently made into a mandarin musical, on the lost traditions of puppetry. Of course there's Dick Lee's musical Fried Rice Paradise. The past was something you could sing, dance, laugh and cry about - the distance made it easier to mourn or celebrate.
Last Saturday, J and I watched Toyfactory's 3rd staging of Titoudao. Titoudao is the name of a comic role in Hokkien opera (literally
shaving knife/blade), a hardworking and loyal servant of a family that has seen better times. In Goh Boon Teck's script, the scenes of this opera are interspersed with scenes from each stage of opera actress Ah Chiam's life - growing up in kampong
Singapore, joining an opera troupe, marrying, growing old, reminiscing... An economical script (save for 1 long childhood scene) that resisted the temptation to lament.
I remember when it was first staged in 1994, a friend visiting me in the UK then had brought its publicity brochure for me as a gift. In the early 90s, the two of us would watch every single play that was produced in Singapore. 2001 was its second staging, a staging that won the play several Life! Theatre awards (Click to readThe Flying Inkpot's Review of the 2001 performance).
But last Saturday I was sceptical. The TV trailers seemed to suggest this was going to a noisy play. And it was. But in the context of the play's street opera premise, the noise seemed apt (or else I am biased). Exposing the backstage of an opera stage, the overall stage design was effective in transiting between 3 worlds of a play within a play, the play itself and the "live" interaction between some actors and the audience. The cast was likable, their performance was energised yet practised.
Today, when I met an old gentleman who had watched the play on Sunday I asked him if he enjoyed it, he answered in the affirmative. Then he qualified, smiling gently - "as a distraction".
Perhaps he had on his mind weightier issues - business, health, family, today's Sumatran quake.
Some folks are better able to keep their eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, if not the next couple of steps. Their bodies may wander or fight some currents - maybe even remain unmoved - but it is their gaze which remains fixed. When we reminisce, tell a story, play another's part, we look inward and around, forward and back, in space and time.
p/s - Titoudao is showing until 31 March, everyday except Monday, at the Drama Centre. Tickets are available from Sistic.