By Daryl Yang | Images provided by Saksham Mehtora and Lu Zhao Boyu
On 28 and 31 March 2018, the Black Box theatre was buzzing with life as the Yale-NUS community was treated to a student production of ‘Mergers & Accusations’, the first of a trilogy of plays by acclaimed playwright Eleanor Wong.
The play was co-directed by Lu Zhao Boyu (Bozy) and Shaun Lim from the Class of 2018. Both students wanted to stage a production before their graduation and decided to embark on this together.
“I wanted to challenge myself to direct a production during my final year, which was something I have not tried on such a huge scale. Moreover, this was a great opportunity to collaborate and learn from Shaun, who is an old friend and fellow theatre enthusiast with tonnes of experience,” Bozy shared. She first became friends with Shaun when they both joined student organisation Yale-NUS Improv during their first year.
Shaun added that it was Bozy who first introduced him to ‘Mergers and Accusations’ last year. “We had a reading of it and I enjoyed it immensely, mostly because of its humour and social relevance, and also how moving it was. I was already planning to direct a production before I graduated but decided to bring this forward after reading this play,” he explained.
On their directorial vision, Bozy and Shaun explained that it was a contemporary interpretation of the play that was written in 1993.
“Even though the play is over 20 years old, the themes explored then are definitely still relevant today and we were eager to interpret it in a modern day context,” they noted.
Bozy added that she fell in love with the script and the main character of Ellen Toh after she chanced upon the trilogy in a public library. The play revolves around the life of Ellen, a lesbian lawyer, who marries her best friend, Jon, in a marriage of convenience.
“I identified with Ellen’s frustration with society. That is, people are always expected to perform strict categorisations of gender roles and behave only in acceptable manners. Ellen believed in something that was contrary to public conventions and the amount of courage that she bolstered to stand up for herself is inspiring,” she explained.
Ellen was played by Tan Yan Ru (Class of 2019), who studies law under the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts. However, it was not professional affinity with Ellen that led her to audition for the role.
“What drew me most was the complexity of the character. Ellen is probably one of the most conflicted people that I have played in theatre. She may be fundamentally flawed and helpless, but yet she is still a loveable character,” Yan Ru shared.
Yan Ru is no stranger to theatre productions, having acted in other school productions such as Yale-NUS repertory theatre company (aside)’s ‘Spring Awakening’. She is also currently in the ensemble for the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park production ‘Julius Caesar’ as part of her involvement with the Young Company, the youth wing of Singapore Repertory Theatre.
The cast also featured first-time actors such as Shikhar Agarwal (Class of 2020) and Reni Chng (Class of 2021).
On her directorial debut, Bozy noted that her experiences with improvisation comedy, commonly known as improv, came in very handy. “Improvisation is a very intricate skill in theatre because the lack of strict restrictions brings to life a character who would otherwise be defined by mere lines and stage directions. Most importantly, the essence of improv lies in the practice of trust between team members. In the context of a scripted production, the director must be able to grasp this concept and be able to express it to the production team,” she explained.
In contrast, Shaun is a familiar face in the Yale-NUS theatre scene, having been involved in various student theatre groups and taken theatre classes over the years. True to the ethos of a liberal arts education, Shaun is majoring in Life Science and will be pursuing further studies in that discipline after graduation.
“Over the course of my time in College, I have explored different areas of theatre. These ranged from design to stage management to acting so that I could understand the nuts and bolts of a production. I have also been involved in various roles in many student-run productions in my senior year,” he shared.
Shaun and Bozy remarked that they hoped that the people, who had watched the play, would start conversations about expectations of gender roles in families and society.
“The core of our interpretation of this play is the human aspect of each of the characters in the face of huge life decisions like marriage and career,” they added.