Play's dialogue works well as audio theatre

In The Heart Comes To Mind, Julius Foo plays a newly widowed writer whose only daughter, played by Oon Shu An (both above), has recently moved home.
In The Heart Comes To Mind, Julius Foo plays a newly widowed writer whose only daughter, played by Oon Shu An (both above), has recently moved home. PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Playwright Lucas Ho shows his ear for dialogue and ability to capture characters in The Heart Comes To Mind, presented as an audio recording

REVIEW / THEATRE

THE HEART COMES TO MIND

The Studios Online and Checkpoint Theatre

Last Saturday, 8pm

How do you re-present a work meant for live theatre on a different platform?

In the case of Lucas Ho's sophomore play, originally part of the Esplanade's The Studios season, director Claire Wong has made the interesting decision to share the production as an audio experience instead of a video presentation.

It is easy to hear why Wong decided to present this as an audio recording. Ho's writing is imagistic and larded with poetic turns of phrases which "read" well.

The code switching between lyrically written interior monologues by the father-daughter characters and Singlish exchanges in real life between them, the nerdy flirtation by the scientist daughter with a colleague via tech talk, and the dynamics between the father and a long-time friend are noteperfect renditions which show the playwright's ear for dialogue and ability to capture characters.

However, the loose fragmentary nature of the script and the lack of a plot also mean the narrative feels flat during the last third of the show.

The story of a newly widowed writer Peter (Julius Foo), whose only daughter Lynn (Oon Shu An) has recently moved home, also lacks an emotional anchor.

There are passing hints of a deep love between Peter and his late wife, and serious friction between Lynn and her late mother, which are not fleshed out. Perhaps this was a conscious choice by the playwright, but it leaves the play with more brains than heart.

  • HEAR IT / THE HEART COMES TO MIND

  • WHERE: The Studios Online

    WHEN: Till June 12, 11.59pm

    ADMISSION: Free

Listening to a script is very different from watching a staging. Because one's attention has narrowed solely to the audio, certain flaws pop where in a live context, they might be forgiven.

Foo's uncertain diction at some points interferes with Ho's portrait of an articulate writer who cannot communicate with his grown daughter.

What was once a background soundtrack has become the scenestealer in the audio format.

Composer Shah Tahir has created a practically wall-to-wall soundscape for the play. It is a beautifully textured auditory tapestry that serves multiple purposes, from setting the mood to highlighting Ho's writing.

Stripped from a live theatre context, it also becomes a living spine that carries this experience.

With theatres still dark, companies here are likely to experiment more with digital presentations.

This production shows an unexpected arena to explore, harking back to the old-fashioned radio plays that once gripped our grandparents' generation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2020, with the headline 'Play's dialogue works well as audio theatre'. Print Edition | Subscribe