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Smoking With Grandma - Adelaide Fringe 2017

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by Georgina Tselekidis (subscribe)
Freelancer and aspiring journalist from Adelaide. Visual Arts graduate & current journalism student. Fashion, lifestyle, entertainment, art & food. I also write for The Adelaidian //
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Cathy SK Lam brings us a relevant and real theatre piece

All the way from Hong Kong, ThreeWoods Playwright performed Smoking With Grandma for the first week of the Adelaide Fringe, and filled the crowd with a great sense of emotion, stemming from their real life notions and refugee experiences.

This moving piece is directed and written by HKDAC emerging artist grant receiver Cathy SK Lam who created the acclaimed play 'The Immigration Lottery' and 'Wither On the Vine'. Smoking With Grandma is their latest production that premiered in Adelaide for the first time this Fringe season.

Smoking With Grandma tells the story behind many personal accounts of refugees who have experienced a sense of loss, and place. Maia is the protagonist who tells the story, holds it together and moves back and forth between the past and present moment of her life, as well as her late grandmother's. It's 1996, the year before the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and it's also the year that Maia's grandmother passed away. We are introduced to the main character in a small intimate space representing a living room, with scattered suitcases and rubbish, Maia in a scurry, trying to pack away her grandmother's items.

During this time, she recalls moments, and ties her grandmother's story together by moving back and forward in time. Her grandma had spent most of her life in Tiu Keng Leng, a remote island in Hong Kong that used to be a refugee village housing former Kuomintang officials who escaped to Hong Kong from Mainland China after Kuomintang was defeated by the Communists. It was demolished in the same year. Maia goes back to her late grandma's place, and unveils the buried secret of grandma. Was she really happy being married? At this time, Maia yearns for the chance to talk and smoke with grandma, just like she used to.

The intensity of the performance is heightened by the music and sound which intertwines into the fast-paced sequences of the play. Likewise, lighting manages to develop the storyline, shuffling between dimmed lighting, flashing lights, or bright spotlights, all predominately focused on Maia. In the corner, another woman sits patiently making origami, with no expression, she is a blank canvas and is open for interpretation. Although the crowd assumes it may be her grandma in spirit, we are never told who she is. It is this mystical element that makes the audience aware of the story's timeless nature, not limited to only one refugee (or the director's family), but a collection of similar journey's that have been pieced together successfully and respectfully by Lam.

The actors, although only two, filled the room with an immense emotive response, particularly through their striking facial expressions, bodily movements and use of the space around them. Bakehouse Theatre studio was implemented in a way that allowed the viewer to feel absorbed into this fictional yet realistic world, heightened by surreal features to resemble a memory, flashback or dream - like it happened, once upon a time. Upon exiting the theatre, Cathy's production Smoking With Grandma remained on my mind, where I pondered the past and questioned the future of our current refugee crisis.
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Where: Bakehouse Theatre, 255 Angas St, Adelaide SA 5000
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