JOANNE Koh encountered Stormtroopers, aliens and a wife pining for her lost husband at Melbourne University’s Chinese Theatre Group’s latest production, Sand and a Distant Star.
There are three kinds of time;
One that keeps going,
The other two frozen in place.
The lights dimmed, and our gaze, focused on the stage, was soon dominated with the sight of Stormtroopers.
Then quite orderly, a pre-recorded electronic voice welcomes us, followed by the Stormtroopers introducing themselves as the producers. They then gave us the customary instructions to turn off our mobile phones and so on.
It was a creative and unexpected way of opening the show, instantly drawing laughs from the audience – laughs of amusement but also bewilderment.
After all, Sand and a Distant Star by the Melbourne University Chinese Theatre Group has nothing to do with the Star Wars franchise.
In fact, it tells a story of an elderly woman who gazes upon the stars and heavens every night, waiting for her husband to return. As the story goes, her husband has been missing for 20 years and she believes he was abducted by aliens.
Ying’s delirious antics seem ridiculous to her daughter Quinn, who becomes increasingly annoyed. She is often urged to face reality, but to no avail. Finally, Quinn decides to help cure her mother’s irrational thoughts by staging an alien encounter. With the help of some acquaintances, they hope to pull off a spectacle that will encourage Ying to move on with her life.
Full of mystical charm, the story was brought to life by seven actors. Joyce Wu, who plays the main character Ying, was excellent at portraying the elderly woman’s spirit, her consistently hunched posture and mature tone accurately imitated that of an elderly woman’s. Wu stirred the audience’s emotions as she relayed her story with much passion and sadness.
Melodie Shen played Ying’s rebellious daughter Quinn, who has dreams of becoming an actress and a flair for breaking rules. Shen pulls off her role with a semi-permanent frown on her face and an edge of angst in her voice, akin to that of a rebellious teenager.
Nelson Wu and Candy Tang both did a spectacular job at portraying Ko the movie director, and Ying’s second daughter Gwen respectively. Although both have smaller roles, they executed their parts with charisma and were excellent supporting artists to the main characters.
But the best performance of the night came from two astounding actors, Kenneth Lou and Kelvin Shum. Lou plays Fan, the cheeky street stall vendor and clown of the cast who spends a lot of time with Ying, selling knick knacks like alien toys and pirated DVDs. Having the most interaction between the rest of the cast, Fan provides a comic relief to a story that, at its core, is of loss and sadness. His character is fun and amusing, drawing much laughter from the audience.
Shum plays two characters, Chin and the Mysterious Man. Shum is excellent at embodying an elderly man – the manipulation of his voice to a much lower pitch is perfectly suited to his character and he does so with consistency and vigour Although the entire cast had great stage presence, Shum shines with a certain star quality as the audience is shown his true versatility when he changes character into the Mysterious Man. Perhaps it is because of this, his character had the most chemistry with Fan and Ying in their respective scenes.
Through great performances by the actors, the play took the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, with equal parts of humour and sorrow. The props and costume teams are to be applauded as each character’s image was well thought out and presented, and the Star Wars reference is what made it “cute” and quirky, adding a touch of irony to the story.
Sand and a Distant Star was a heartwarming tale about love and loss, of hope and reality and with a strong cast of talented actors, they delivered a stellar performance that was difficult to fault.