All images credit: Joshua Teo
Thunderstorm (or in Chinese, 雷雨 Léiyǔ) might have been written during the infamous Chinese weepies era of the 1930’s, but the play itself has reached a legendary status – almost cult-like – to a certain extent among the East Asian literary and performing arts circles.
As a testament, all four days of Tsao Yu’s Thunderstorm, directed by Faridah Merican were sold out before the curtains could even open here at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. Though the show in itself might have received mixed reviews, I found the entire play, which was punctuated with one plot reveal to another, extremely exhilarating.
The term, “blitzkrieg” comes to mind.
If one is to Google the definition for “blitzkrieg”, one would stumble upon a short but succinct description employed by the Germans back in World War II; “an intense military campaign intended to bring about a swift victory.” In simpler laymen terms, you’re not only receiving a tight slap across the face, but a kick in the nuts and a karate chop to the neck – all simultaneously at the same time. Tsao Yu’s Thunderstorm is a blitzkrieg of emotions.
While most theatre goers would expect to come out revitalised, Thunderstorm is heavily draining to the human psyche. But there are two crucial reasons why; it delves into the pitfalls of an extremely patriarchal society and the misunderstood nature of coitus itself – which many, even till today, have deemed as taboo.
While I can go into great lengths into the technicalities and specifics of the entire production – which I found to have surpassed all my expectations – I found the themes in the play to be of great interest.
Tsao Yu, no doubt appears to have had milked the attraction people held towards such weepies dry by creating such a tragic play which to a certain extent, almost seemed to make a light mockery, a spoof of sorts, of Shakespeare’s tragics. And a part of me believes he might have done just that.
There were occasions where members of the audience were left laughing at certain scenes deemed serious – and I myself had laughed at some of these scenes – but it was because of the fact that I was at disbelief when they happened. Thunderstorm throws you into the zany world of the capitalistic Chous, who pretend to be noble and honourable but within the dark confinements of their well arched walls, lie hideous secrets of dishonour and disgrace.
And it is these qualities that I find deep interest in.
The entire play revolves around Chou Fan Yi played terrifyingly well by Carmen Soo. There were many instances in the play where I found her character to be excruciatingly obnoxious and yet, there were so many moments where I felt deep sympathy.
Fan Yi is the embodiment of a thunderstorm in itself. Her formation as a storm began when she was forced to marry Chou Pu Yuan, a wealthy tin miner played by Patrick Teoh. Not only was she forced into coitus to create their legitimate son, Chou Chung – played wonderfully by Tan Li Yang – she also held deep resentment towards Patrick for locking her like a prisoner in her own home.
To make matters worst, Patrick’s asshole of a character still held deep regrets over his previous lover – a servant – Shi Ping, who had given birth to two sons. Out of honour and to prevent a sully over the Chous seemingly noble lineage, the then young Pu Yuan had to chase away Shi Ping – played by Priscilla Wong – from his house.
She left him the eldest son, Chou Ping, played by Brian Chan. While the second, Lu Ta Hai, played by Alvin Looi, was taken cared off by herself.
And here is where things get a little complicated. Chou Ping grows up to become a handsome man who attracts the eyes of a lonely Fan Yi. And the both of them have sex. Infact, Fan Yi admits that Chou Ping is the only one she could truly be herself with. And who can possibly blame her? A woman as gorgeous as Fan Yi and lonely at that, truly can be a nymphomaniac provided you treat her right and well.
However, for Chou Ping, it only complicated things. He struggles with the guilt he has over the fact that he had fucked his own step mother. Not knowing, that he had also fallen deeply in love and impregnated his own sister, Ho Lee Ching’s Lu Ssu Feng who happens to be *drumrolls* Shi Ping’s daughter with Lu Kuei – played by Mark Beau de Silva!
See why the audience laughed now? It’s the no brainer-what-the-fuck-on-earth plot reveals. It’s surprising but also so, so, soooo dramatic!
But, hold on! What if Chou Ping did not feel guilty? Would he be considered as crazy as Fan Yi? Would he be considered a monster according to societal norms and standards? Why is sex between siblings and family members such a terrible thing?
We all can somehow guess how the first humans came around. Surely our ancestors had to make love within the family in order to create the next generation and so on and so forth somewhere. It’s the science of survival.
But what if two siblings were truly in love. What would their relationship be deemed? What makes the entire act – a loving coitus between a mother and a son, a brother and a sister – disgusting?
There is a poignant scene where Fan Yi begs Chou Ping to take her away in his pursuit to elope with Ssu Feng. But Chou Ping refuses on the grounds that he too, alas, found her disgusting.
The transformation of Fan Yi from a once carefree cloud into a giant storm cloud was successfully created through Yusman Mokhtar, who placed the lightning effects at the right parts of the dialogues. Assisting him was the soundscape operator – verily the god of thunder himself – Khairil Imran. The both of them deserve a special mention in my review of this excellent play because they were the ones accompanied, who served Carmen Soo’s transformation into a monstrous Thunderstorm.
On stage, were the casts who created a monster out of Fan Yi, knowingly and unknowingly. While she played the pawn for many, towards the end the tables turned.
All these ponderings were ejaculated onto my face at the end of the play when Ssu Feng, Chou Chung and Chou Ping die tragically. It’s called a climax for a reason, after all.
As I walked out of the theatre hall, breathless, I realised that this herein, lie Tsao Yu’s genius. And I have to give Faridah Merican’s cast and crew a standing ovation for the immense hard work – approximately close to just five-months – in tackling a play of such an intense magnitude.
I’m still pondering on the questions above. Drop me your thoughts below in the comments! Did you watch the play as well? What are your thoughts about it? You can also email us your lengthy rant or piece to firstname.lastname@example.org