Sharing the contents of letters unsent

By Christine Young

Letters Home is playing at Theatre Works at the same time as Saltwater: both plays are presented by performance-makers, Joe Lui and Jamie Lewis respectively, who hail from Singapore and have made Australia home. They are vastly different theatre pieces in many respects but share themes of self-discovery and vulnerability.

Letters Home

Joe Lui has been a writer, director and sound designer in Perth for several years. Letters Home is his first outing in front of an audience. Lui wouldn’t describe himself, or actors in general, as brave. He says bravery belongs to nurses. But maybe he won’t mind if I call him gutsy. And audacious. Letters Home is warts-and-all storytelling, and it takes gumption to lay yourself bare to 24-odd strangers then hope like hell they’ll appreciate you.

Lui is also warrior-like, not just because of his warrior play-acting, but also because he has overcome great adversity.
Lui’s unsent letters to his parents are about why he decided to stay in Australia after completing his degree at Murdoch University in Perth. In part, going to Perth was a way to temporarily put off three years’ compulsory military service. That was seven years ago. Lui’s decision to stay in Australia means he will never return to Singapore or see his parents again.

There is so much more to Lui’s story than escaping the rigidity of life in Singapore. He paints a stark, sometimes harrowing, picture of his childhood in Singapore through poignant, touching verbal letters to his parents on stage left, and in monologues addressed directly to the audience. The picture is also coloured with streaks of joy, hope and pluck. Lui speaks effusively about Australia, theatre and his two passions –art and sex – with humour, pathos and light self-deprecation.

However, he still feels the remnants of an abusive childhood which hint towards depression and anxiety. He simultaneously loves his parents and rages against them.

Letters Home is an insightful glimpse into Singapore society weaved into stories and letters that reveal Lui’s transition into manhood and identity. Overall, he gives a strong performance but there were moments where Lui seemed to falter which I put down to beginner’s nerves rather than lack of ability. There were many times when he nailed a casual conversational style of banter which belies a man to be both reckoned with and delight in.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: Until July 12, 2015
Tickets: $30 Full / $25 Conc (plus booking fee) Saltwater / Letters Home Double Bill – purchase a ticket to both shows for only $50 full price or $40 concession.

WARNING: Contains smoke effects, strong language and adult themes including suicide. If you or someone you know are in crisis, you can speak with someone right now.
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Image by Simon Pynt