Liu Xiaoyi’s latest work, Fluid, sets out to question what theatre is. While the prospect of such a mammoth task sounds daunting, Gwen Pew instead finds a beautiful, whimsical performance that takes the audience on a child-like journey of rediscovery.
8 Jul 2014: Saturday night’s performance of Fluid began with an announcement. ‘Hello everybody,’ says actress Li Xie in softly spoken Mandarin. ‘We haven’t been doing so well in terms of ticket sales, so feel free to move in a little closer to keep warm.’ It’s a shame that only ten or so of us were huddled in that chilly Flexible Performance Space at Lasalle that night, because what followed were 75 of the best minutes we’ve spent in quite a while.
Perhaps it was the intimidating prospect of the play that deterred some people from buying a ticket; after all, its creator, Liu Xiaoyi, had set out to ask a big question: ‘what is theatre?’ Its imposing premise could have resulted in an overly intellectual, or even pretentious, interpretation. But instead, the play stripped everything right back to the basics, and led us on an almost child-like journey of rediscovery. There’s the black box theatre space, two actors – Lie Xie and Lim Chin Huat – a floor lamp, a chair, a desk and a vintage turntable; meanwhile, a sea of clear white plastic bags floods the entire back and mid sections of the area, creating a simple but effective backdrop.
Narrated by an animated voice playing from a vinyl, this is the story of Lao Wang, a 60-something cashier who lives a quiet, mundane life but decides to take a week of no-pay leave to join a theatre workshop in the mountains. Every now and then, the voice pauses and our attention shifts to Lim’s playful choreography, performed amidst the plastic bags and set to a minimalistic piano score and ripples of light. We never get to meet any of the characters in the plot or see the actions take place, but in the darkness of the space, our imagination roams freely.
We don’t ever get directly told that this is what theatre is, either. Instead, the stage is set as an invitation for us to decide what theatre means to us. It becomes a personal narrative – each of us has a bit of Lao Wang in us, but what do we make of the art of the stage? There’s no right or wrong answer, and we can take away whatever we want from it. We’re even given two endings to choose from.
With this delicately-crafted play, it’s all about the little things, and the painstaking attention to detail pays off. From Mr Wang’s brutally, hilariously honest musings (‘I paid this much money just to let people watch me strip? Is this what art is about these days?’) to the unexpected aspects of the work that takes you out of your element, Fluid keeps the surprises coming. Its whimsical nature also ensures that things remain light-hearted and entertaining throughout, making it a beautifully thought-provoking experience to be savoured long after the lights come back on.