“Did oregano kill your hamster?” asks Janet, one of two protagonists in Calvin Wong‘s The Taste of Water.
It was a humorous, sarcastic line that looked great on paper, but failed to translate to the stage in this particular instance. Moments like this riddled the production, begging the question: is there something off with The Taste of Water?
This most recent Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) production premiered last week, boasting a script that requires an all-female cast of four.
It’s a story of relationships, with focus on college students Janet (Rosheen Fatima) and Lily (Ho Lee Ching). They move into a new apartment together and face hardships, as each of them go through a turbulent period in their respective lives.
Written with a gawky sense of humour, Taste is a dramedy utilising awkward social situations to great effect, easily evoking laughter from audiences when it needs to. It’s a script that bravely explores themes such as lesbian relationships, unrequited love and abortions, all executed in a somewhat whimsical but sensitive manner.
Unfortunately, our biggest problem with Taste was the way pivotal lines and gags were being delivered almost haphazardly. Even at its climax, revelations were spat out without much consideration over its life-changing consequences to these characters.
We’re pinning this down to Joe Hasham‘s direction, because we don’t think these talented actors he’s strung together would deliver the script in such an overwhelmingly sincere and naive fashion.
For example, the line we mentioned at the beginning of this review was spoken with an earnestness that didn’t give any life to the humour at its heart, thus wasting a potential laugh.
One other thing that grabbed our attention was the original music by min’z. It actually works beautifully – if you choose to ignore the sometimes very literal lyrics.
The actors pull off their roles quite well; characterisations were well-executed, making it all a largely-believable affair that calmly but surely pulls audiences in.
Most noteworthy was Ho Lee Ching, whose spectrum was fairly wide: tickling us in her moments of lust over Hollywood stars, drowning us in the heartbreak of the finale as she sits alone on a chair, abandoned by her housemate as well as her girlfriend (Nur Zakuan) during the course of the play. Ching took charge of Taste; this show belongs to the upbeat yet offbeat Lily.
Also commendable was Safia Hanifah, portraying Janet’s mother – a Chinese woman potentially suffering from OCD – to hilarious effect. We wished and wished for her return (she only appears once) after she steals an entire scene conversing with her daughter and her housemate.
Taste’s flow was just right. The play sauntered on relaxed, with adequate room to breathe, allowing scenes to wash over in the glow of its performers.
Most importantly perhaps is the fact that scripts like this don’t come along very often.
Calvin Wong’s writing handles romantic and platonic relationships between multiple female characters without exploiting the sexual potential of such set-ups, but massive kudos to Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham for having the courage to stage this play. In light of recent trends indicating an overall move towards a more conservative society, what these veterans have chosen to do should be lauded.
Given it’s successes and letdowns, The Taste of Water barely quenched our thirst for great Malaysian theatre by the end of the night. We didn’t mind it, but – a lot like water itself – it sadly didn’t leave enough of an impression after.
The Taste of Water ran from the 4th to the 12th of July at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac).