‘Letters Home’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 17, 2014

‘Letters Home’ is a partial autobiography by that much admired, theatrical personality, Joe Lui. His company, Renegade Productions along with producer Lisa McCready, is proudly presenting this very unusual tale that will bring sadness and shock to the audience. It can be seen at The Blue Room Studio Theatre, 53 James Street in Northbridge. The 80-minute performances are nightly at 8.30 and run until Saturday 4th October.

I first saw Joe about ten years ago. It was at the Nexus Theatre at Murdoch Uni; he was dressed in a dinner suit and played a grand piano as background music to a play. He unassumingly walked on, tickled the ivories and left, no bowing, no desire for recognition or adulation. Since then he has proved himself to be one of Perth’s most controversial playwrights, but always with a good solid storyline, and superb dialogue in his scripts. He is limitless in his directing techniques; nothing seems to control him in his demands of his cast. His lighting shows the most advance techniques. His music is not a simple one-instrument accompaniment; Joe gives you the whole orchestra.

Here we have a man who has proved himself a thousand times over, to be top of his many fields. He has worked with all of the major Perth-based theatrical groups and yet, as this performance will show you, he is filled with self-doubt and a driving force that constantly, dangerously makes him demand so much more of himself.

The walls are covered in polythene sheeting. There is a set of bookshelves laden with many of Joe’s treasures, especially his books. To the right is a bright scarlet, Chinese designed table and chairs. On the table is a hot coal, food steamer. Hanging above the table are several red Chinese lanterns. (Set and Costume Design by Cherish Marrington).

 

      There is a fanfare, timpani drum roll and like TV’s Charlie Chan, Joe emerges from a mist to a massive applause. He is dressed in his now famous black T-shirt and black jeans, but tonight he is also wearing a scarlet and gold, Mandarin coat.

      He gives us a brief history of Buddhism, a look at the expectations of family life in Singapore. We learn the story and etiquette behind Chinese weddings and New Year. Joe sits and starts to write a letter to his parents, parents that he left in Singapore a decade ago, Parents that he cannot return home to see, because by avoiding the Armed Services call-up, he could be arrested upon arrival.

 

Having Joe perform, as an actor is a rarity, but he managed this 80-minute exposé without any trouble, the audience were totally engrossed. Joe was mentored by Humphrey Bower, the King of Monologues, on how to deliver his jaw-dropping story. You learn how this affable actor is really quite withdrawn, shy and insecure; and yet he has a perverseness about his life that will shock the audience – especially his secret fantasy!!

Joe has composed his own distinctive music, and this is played at a very low level throughout the performance. In the background, projected onto an A2 piece of hardboard, is a wonderful video design by Mia Holton. This hour-long video cleverly picks out the main episodes of Joe’s tale, with photos, paintings and videos of his past, mingled with pictures of Chinese history and tradition. The complex, but most effective lighting design was by Chris Donnelly, who was one of Joe’s best actors and now an accomplished lighting designer.

Meabh (pronounced mave) Walton stage managed the show and was the tech on the lighting and sound. She proved her natural talent at accurately hitting the numerous cues, and ensuring the wonderful atmosphere of the whole show.

One suspects that Joe could have had a presentation three times the length, and still find an abundance of facts and memories to keep us fully entertained. An unusual show, I do not think that I have seen a memoire by an actor before, let alone one as unusual and daring as this. If you know Joe, you will especially love it. Your emotions will be very confused by the end of the performance, but this will answer many of the questions that you will have about Joe’s numerous prize winning plays. Try to catch this experience.