Letters Home – Review

Joe Lui in "Letters Home" Photo: Simon Pynt
Joe Lui in “Letters Home” Photo: Simon Pynt

Singaporean born Joe Lui arrived in Western Australia as a university student. For the first time in his life he was able to look out into the night’s galaxy of stars, rather than the speckle overshadowed by Singapore’s skyscrapers. In the quiet, away from an abusive environment of family pressure and expectations, away from the calling of Singapore’s compulsory national service, he decides to not return home.

Letters Home is Lui’s ode to his Chinese parents, a performance of his reflections over seven years in letters never sent home. On one level, being able to shape your destiny, chart the lines of your fate to be the person you desire to be is a destination I think we can all relate to. On another, Letters Home is difficult to relate to in its entirety, despite dealing with important universal themes.

A director, writer and designer based in Perth, Letters Home is Lui’s debut as an actor. Lui’s performance of himself was flawless, the script flowed from his tongue, and he charismatically delivered. Yet, his theatre is highly self-reflexive and the fourth wall often broken (at one point he muses that he hopes the performance is adequately “theatrical”).

Lui is outspoken against Singapore’s patriarchal and homophobic Chinese familial values and lampoons the ideologies of his upbringing with humour. On set he prepares hotpot on a table with two empty chairs where his parents would be, the ritual mimicking the most important event on the Chinese calendar – Chinese New Year, where the eve would be spent with familiy in sharing a feast.

While on one hand he is critical of his Chineseness (he rages against the act of endless obeisance/kow-towing and serving tea to elders), on the other he draws on Chinese mythology and folklore to frame his rebellious identity. In this analogy is the irony of Singaporean ideology, even though an authoritarian nation state , it still drawed upon its rebellious figures for values of freedom and justice.

Joe Lui in "Letters Home" Photo: Simon Pynt
Joe Lui in “Letters Home” Photo: Simon Pynt

Lui’s theatre is brutally honest and upfront, he doesn’t hide anything – from being a ‘try-sexual’ (ie he would try anything sexual) to grappling with suicidal thoughts, there’s a literalness that can at times be overwhelming. While the conversational openness on the outset is an invitation to intimacy, as an audience member, I felt as if I wasn’t given space to understand a subtlety of ideas. I felt slightly overwhelmed by the text, and I was aching for some subtext to work with.

Overall, the performance was engaging, Lui’s personality and charisma imbuing the theatrical journey we undertook in the generosity of his stories. Confessional story-telling as catharsis, the audience were willing listeners. Perhaps a reframing of events and a slightly shorter piece would have left his willing audience the opportunity to be completely mesmerised by the legend of this Singaporean-Australian rebel.


Booking details via Theatreworks
Date: 01 Jul 2015 – 12 Jul 2015
Time: various options – 5pm, 7pm, 8.30pm
Price: $30 Full / $25 Conc [plus booking fee]

Presented by: Theatre Works and Renegade Productions

Saltwater / Letters Home Double Bill – purchase a ticket to both shows for only $50 full price or $40 concession!

Author: Lian Low

Lian Low is a writer, editor and spoken word artist. She’s currently at large in Peril‘s outer orbit. Previously editor-in-chief (2010-2014) , prose editor (2009-2014) and on Peril‘s Board until 2016. Find her on http://lianlow.weebly.com/ and Twitter @Lian__Low