A FULL house of about 600 people attended the opening night of Drama Box's Drift on Thursday at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.
The Mandarin play, written by the centre's playwright Nick Yu, and adapted and directed by Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun, tells the story of a Singaporean family's multi-generational connections and conflicts with mainland China's politics, history and economy.
Its current eight-day run is part of the Singapore Season showcase of the Republic's arts and culture in China and also part of the centre's annual Asia Contemporary Theatre Festival, which brings in theatre companies from all over the world.
The collaborative effort starred Singapore's Lim Kay Siu, Jo Kwek and Patricia Toh and China's Zhou Yemang and Qin Xuan, and featured original music from experimental band The Observatory and multimedia design by Hong Kong's Eva Tang.
Yu, 37, spent a week in Singapore in April this year talking to various China nationals living here to find out more about their experiences of life in the Lion City.
"I usually write plays that have more conventional storylines, about daily life in Shanghai," he says. "This time, it's quite different because Heng Leun wanted something more episodic. His treatment of my draft transformed something that was more like a novel into something like a poem."
The result, he thinks, is an interesting experiment for Shanghai theatre audiences.
"Chinese audiences here are not very used to watching thought-provoking plays. They come to the theatre mainly for entertainment," he says. "The pace of life in both Singapore and Shanghai is very fast. Nobody wants to stop. This play is trying to provide a space for reflection."
Xie Jin, 32, who works in the broadcast industry, was quite taken with the play after watching it on Thursday night.
He says: "The format is very different from the plays I usually see. The themes about contemporary life were very interesting."
Zheng Zhi Pei, 50, a member of Shanghai's Three Colours dance company, says: "I often see the different co-productions the centre brings in and I think this is one of the more successful ones.
"There is still room for improvement, but it is a good concept - how people from two different places think and interact."
Another audience member, Zhang Xian, 52, a member of a Shanghai arts collective called Zu He Niao, feels that the play's abstract qualities marked an interesting departure from Shanghai theatre's prevailing preference for "more realist, soap-opera type drama".
He adds: "The multimedia and stage design was very good and I think Shanghai theatre audiences, which tend to be quite young, will be receptive to this more romantic style."
Singaporeans will be able to watch the play when it is staged for the Singapore Arts Festival next year.