Slanted Theatre presents “Boom” by Singaporean playwright Jean Tay. Developed at the Royal Court in London and developed by the Singapore Repertory Company, “Boom” is now a set text for schools in Singapore. With this terrific pedigree it is a pleasure to see this play presented in Sydney. Set in land-scarce Singapore during a time of property boom – around 2008 - as seen by the surge in en-bloc sales, which coincides with the implementation of a government policy of exhuming graves that are more than 15 years old, "Boom" has much to say to us. My guest on the evening I attended the production is Singaporean and – to attest to the authenticity of this story – he felt as if the play was telling his lived experience. Performed in English, Hokkein and Singlish slang, “Boom” is a rich evening in the theatre with themes to be savoured.
“Boom” tells the story of an elderly woman and her property agent son in Singapore, who are struggling over the potential en bloc sale of their home. A common en-bloc scenario is one where all the units in a strata-titled development are sold to developer and proceeds are divided amongst all the unit owners. Mother and Son’s destinies become interwoven with that of an idealistic civil servant, Jeremiah, who is facing the greatest challenge of his career—persuading a reluctant corpse to yield its memories. “Boom” is a poignant tale about the relocation of both dead and living. It's about how personal stories get left behind in the inexorable march of progress.
Director Tiffany Wong has assembled the perfect cast. Josephine Lee is outstanding as the ambitious son Boon who craves social advancement and forgets too soon what it is to love a home. Melissa Gan plays multiple roles and is memorable as the fast-talking agent who chases luxury, turning sand into gold and that precious dollar! Natalie Low is a standout in her interpretation of the elderly neighbour and Tiang Lim impresses in her debut as the Boon’s mum. Daniel Mackenzie, Jordan Zhu and Gerwin Widjaja complete the cast. Hats off to Widjaja for commitment and zest in creating a living corpse. “Boom” has everything from naturalism to surrealism and Tiffany Wong and her creative team admirably support the cast in bringing this often-poignant story to the stage.
One thing is certain in our life and that is death. “Boom” reminds us to hold onto our precious dreams and question the march of time. Boon’s childhood dream of being Superman are so easily crushed by a domineering father and yet is at the core of his conflict with his mum. His father chained him to a tree in the garden for an entire night and that is his most powerful memory. His mother is unwilling to leave precisely because of her own memories of the place: it is where she started a new life as a young wife and mother in the 1970s; and though her husband abandoned her many years ago, she still believes that one day he will return - and how will he find her if she is not there? This family narrative is both literal and metaphoric. When paired with the story a civil servant who must exhume a corpse because the land is being returned to the government the play reveals how human emotion and dignity can sometimes be crushed under the onslaught of efficiency.
“Boom” resonates now in our own cashed strapped economy on one hand and rising house prices on the other. There is just so much great theatre being made in Singapore let’s hope that Slanted Theatre delivers other gems to Sydney audiences.