“How long is a piece of string if you tie one end to your home country and the other to your heart?”
This question forms the basis of Hungry Ghosts, a new play produced by playwright Jean Tong. In Hungry Ghosts, Tong explores themes of belonging and desire while touching on recent Malaysian events to further these ideas. Characters debate and speculate over the fate of the missing MH370 and open up over the the 1MDB banking scandal that made headlines in Malaysia, while also exploring these events through the experiences of an international student.
In many ways, Hungry Ghosts can be considered a politically charged play. And with the historic vote in Malaysia that’s still fresh in many minds, it’s hard not to consider how Hungry Ghosts might be Tong’s own reflection on her country’s politics and its effect on her and fellow Malaysians.
Executing her vision are actors Emina Ashman, Jing-Xuan Chan and Bernard Sam and director Petra Kalive. Hungry Ghost‘s performers are deeply heartfelt which is especially noteworthy when one considers that its actors aren’t inhabiting roles in the traditional sense. Rather than inhabiting named characters, actors instead embody opinions, comments and thoughts. They function as a part of one’s subconscious, and in doing so manage to capture the frustration and sadness of the families whose loved ones have remained missing from the MH370 flight. Meanwhile, Kalive’s direction helps the play move seamlessly from one scene to the next, as moments overlap and transition easily.
Set designer Eugyeene Teh also deserves praise for his work on Hungry Ghosts. His simple set for the play allows for audiences to make sense of the words spoken as we fill in the space with our imagination. On stage also is a deconstructed version of the MH370 and while it occupies an area of the set, in between scenes it’s quite incredible to see how this deconstructed plane can also change into other objects and scenarios like a helicopter overlooking the sea to an airport terminal.
Though it may appear or sound ambiguous in description, rest assured that as an audience member witnessing the show it all makes sense.
And while being Malaysian or having some knowledge of recent Malaysian history does enhance one’s appreciation for the play, it by no means is a prerequisite. At times dark and funny, Hungry Ghosts is a largely enjoyable experience even without this background information.