Review of “Tell me when to laugh and when to cry” by Peter Sau

Title of performance: Tell me when to laugh and when to cry (part of the 2nd season of The Studios)

Date of performance: 8 August 2012

Performance Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

It’s a place to make truth when we need truth, make fiction when we need fiction, make chaos when we need chaos, make imagination when we need imagination…a playground where I fix myself.” – Li Xie, theatre playwright/director/performer

We’ve come a long way.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of a national theatre venue, and also in remembrance of the 10th death anniversary of Kuo Pao Kun, 2011 Young Artist Award recipient Peter Sau put up a monologue which led him to revisit his work as an artist. He inadvertently rejoiced at the birth of a national hunger for theatre which utters the thoughts we can’t vociferate.

It was as if he was speaking to the audience through 5 characters, all part of the exploration of his subconscious, but created together with 5 special collaborators: Gaga Peterina the copycat artiste with a cocaine addiction (with Gani Karim), Branson Sau the very opinionated taxi driver (with Ivan Heng), Mosquito Sau Man the mosquito exterminator (with Natalie Hennedige), korean-drama crazy Mother, the conservative theatre censor (with Li Xie), and HIV-positive homosexual Daniel Sau (with Casey Lim).

Tell me when to laugh and when to cry was just that. A retrospective monologue from Sau displaying his breaking free from the shackles of feeling vulnerable. Letting go, and honouring the practitioners who made him who he was today. This was not a painfully self-indulgent performance but one which celebrated the beauty of being ordinary amidst the backdrop of an increasingly complex world. The affecting voice-overs, startling script written by Sau, Royston Tan’s multimedia prowess displayed in the videos flashed on a state of the art screen, all added to the dark tones and paradoxical feel of the show.

As Sau literally and figuratively stepped into the shoes of his 5 personas, the audience started to see sides of the ordinary that we rarely liked and craved to see. With modulation of the tone of his voice and his manner, he slipped under the skins of 5 very different people with only a few simple stage props – a chair, mannequins and shoes. There was humour, sadness, ambivalence, strangeness, and over all, brutal honesty.

In a way, it was as if the stories of the 5 ordinary characters were projections of the selves of the ordinary man, audience members included. There was the gritty world of drug addiction and self-destruction. Then came the quiet desperation at the political status quo, and emasculation of being rootless and culture-less. Also the eccentric man coping with loss by turning to the opiate of the masses. Lastly, the hypocrisy of seeking bodily pleasure but forbidding the overt theatrical display of it, and the insidious stigma of HIV.

It’s no mean feat to cobble together 5 different characters and work with 5 collaborators with varying creative temperaments and energies. Yet Sau pulled it off masterfully. The delivery of a few lines weren’t perfect but his monologue was gripping and kept the audience on the edge of their seats for the full 105 minutes. I do suspect that a number of references were lost on those who were not familiar with some of the works that were borrowed for the show, myself included.

With a handful of themes and contradictions to flesh out, it’s little wonder that Sau looked exhausted by the end of the performance, but ended the night with rapturous applause and a few standing ovations. We saw Sau in some kind of limbo – when he took off his shoes and stood spotlighted behind the screen which kept flashing different physical settings and stills of his personas, we got a fragmented sense of his self. This was Sau, uncut and uncensored. And in a way, this is us. Always searching, play-acting, and sometimes, with the barrage of information and images assaulting us in this postmodern age, all we really can do is “form up questions, rather than answers, with depth, honesty and clarity.” (Natalie Hennedige)

Tell me when to laugh and when to cry by Peter Sau, played at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 8 August 2012, 8pm, the eve of National Day. There are two other shows on 10 & 11 August 2012. Tickets from SISTIC. Catch this gem while you can.

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3 thoughts on “Review of “Tell me when to laugh and when to cry” by Peter Sau

  1. Hi jtbeans, it is only after almost 3 months that I am reading your review. thanks for the effort and being there and even writing your reflection. it helps me a lot. gratitude, peter sau

      • Hi, I would very much like to know your name and also hopefully you in person! Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I intend to further rework this piece of solo work and tour it to Taiwan next year. TELL ME is a deeply reflective work and took me almost 8 months to manifest, thus I am going to stay low in action to rest, reflect deeper and make a next leap in my next work, meantime perhaps some staged readings for some commanies because I believe in helping new playwrights find their voice. Stay in connection, ok? Oh yes, do tell me what’s your day job you really love to hate? peter

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