Smoking With Grandma

Threewoods Playwright took us on an underwhelming biographical journey with this short play about a young girl reliving her refugee grandmother’s memories of Hong Kong. Katherine Leung Ki Kwan, who played young Maia, held the audience captive with her enchanting narrative however this was overshadowed by a dull throbbing of stagnation which persisted throughout. Though innovative technical elements elevated sections, Cathy SK Lam’s play needed to find oomph from somewhere.

Despite a forceful performance from the central female, the play as a whole felt slightly haphazard.

The set evoked an uneasy atmosphere amongst the audience as the small space and hollow presence of the characters caused an unnatural but inevitable feeling of immersion. The mirroring of Maia and her grandma’s spirit was initially intriguing but became tinged with monotony as the play wore on. There were moments of magical captivation as Angel SY Chanwho physicalised the memories was able to seize the spotlight with only a gentle move of paper yet at times her presence seemed unnecessary as Leung Ki Kwan’s command of the space was bold enough.

Projections on the walls offered sentiment and variation when parts of the performance became repetitive and produced some quite powerfully cathartic moments. A particularly striking scene came when a black and white photograph of the young grandmother appeared behind Maia and emulated the words she spoke from the diary. This one static instance delivered an authoritative calm in between physical elements which were shy on energy.

Despite a forceful performance from the central female, the play as a whole felt slightly haphazard. Pauses designed for reflection seemed unnecessarily drawn out, and even elements of dance, which ought to have injected some level of fluidity, were often deflated. The two females were clearly technically skilled, and their routines were elegant in their movement, but disappointingly remained jarring in the span of the performance.

There is no doubt that the performance reserved the potential to have an emotional impact though perhaps would work better on a larger scale. In the small venue, the ideas seemed limited to a minimum, and the production contained too restrictive boundaries, which brought a potent concept down to a mediocre level.

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The Blurb

‘I didn’t remember if it was June or July, but it was the season of cicada. We all are, drifting wood…’ Maia called 1996 the ‘year of lost’: the year before the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and the year her grandmother passed away. When Maia unveils the buried secrets, she wants to go smoking with grandma. Created by HKADC Emerging Artist Grant receiver Cathy S K Lam (The Immigration Lottery, Wither on the Vine), Smoking With Grandma is a new play about refugees, receiving critical acclaim from both Hong Kong and Adelaide Fringe 2017.

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