|Image: The Finger Players ©.
I tend to shy away from this genre of shows. But I missed their 2015 performance, haven't caught any other versions and thought I should get around to watching Kuo Pao Kun’s ‘The Spirits Play’ (1998), (郭宝昆的《灵戏》) in 2017. This is also directed by Oliver Chong, and presented by The Finger Players in Mandarin with English surtitles.
Five Japanese spirits are caught in limbo after the war. They live in a strange netherworld that might almost be similar to a living mind’s prison. These spirits recall their past lives and we hear their pain. A General, a Soldier, a Woman-Widow, a Nurse-Comfort-Woman, and a Poet-Reporter. Giant shadow puppetry made for a wonderful creepy effect, taking audiences into the minds of each spirit as they re-live the horrors of war. Sound artist Darren Ng provided those haunting rhythms, discordant notes, bells and melodies to the unfolding stories.
I understand from the friends that although the cast remains the same, Oliver Chong has changed the script rather significantly from the 2015 performance. The topic and contents are just as heavy, but what I watched that night felt all right, exactly what I would expect of a thought-provoking show full of darkness and regrets. This was a cleaner 90-minute version that interpreted the script slightly differently from the 2015 staging so that the monologues flow into each other, and the audience do a lighter job of trying to get behind each character's views.
Although we could infer, the play didn’t exactly mention World War II, Malaya or Singapore. It paints a picture of how all wars inherently scar every body. How do you make sense of war and its atrocities? People take sides anyhow and regardless. Nobody can even remember why we're fighting in first place. Each side is right. The other side is always wrong. It postulates the tragic and horrible price that any war seeks to exact upon human souls, the natural world, cities and civilizations. And we never ever learn from history.