Voices of a Siren

ADL-Fringe-2023-Soraya-Chau-in-Voices-of-a-Siren-courtesy-of-Threewoods-PlaywrightA pair of red high-heels sit ominously down-stage. White gauze drapes either side of the set. A woman lies down in a crucifix-like shape. Another woman beings playing haunting, Chinese music.

Right from the beginning Voices of a Siren captures the attention of the audience. After some dance-movement work accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Maggie Tan, actor Soraya Chau begins telling the story of “her grandmother”.

Segueing from the legend of the mermaid trading her tail for feet in order to wear the red high-heels, she goes on to speak of the horrendous foot-binding her grandmother endured.

Thus begins a narrative of three generations of Chinese/Hong Kong women: grand-mother, mother, and the woman before us. Each has had her own physical or mental pain and oppression to deal with. Each has felt herself a lesser human for being born female.

Playwright Ada Chan has sculpted a narrative that is both sweeping and intimate. There are echoes of Wild Swans, and The Joy Luck Club, but Voices of a Siren holds up on its own merits.

Chan beautifully writes those quotidian moments that shape a life: being late for a dinner in your honour; delivering lunch to your husband’s worksite; staying awake with a lover when you really want to sleep. Some of the writing could be tightened slightly: there is a little bit of unnecessary repetition. But overall this is a wonderfully written piece, giving the actor great words, with room to move around them.

Brenda Chan’s direction is assured and subtle, which one would expect from this veteran of Hong Kong theatre. Chau’s movement pieces, and songs delivered by both Chau and Tan, are interspersed with traditional storytelling, and some extraordinary physical acting.

Tan, whilst providing the live soundtrack, takes on a quiet, intense, performing role, as both witness and conspirator. There are times when the eye is drawn to her sitting quietly, even when she is not playing. Her focus helps anchor the work, and balance Chau’s more physical personifications.

Voices of a Siren is an exquisite, important, and slick (in the best sense) piece of theatre. Brought to the Adelaide Fringe partly through the Hong Kong Arts Development Council Cultural Exchange Project, it would be wonderful to see this return to Adelaide soon. Maybe for OzAsia?

Voices of a Siren
Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, 253 Grenfell Street, Adelaide
Performance: Monday 13 March 2023 – 3.00pm
Season: 9 – 13 March 2023 (ended)

For more information, visit: www.kairosartshk.com for details. Checkout the trailer here!

Image: Soraya Chau in Voices of a Siren – courtesy of Threewoods Playwright

Review: Tracey Korsten