No, that’s not a typo in the title. LIFT: Love Is Flower The is a series of numerous Singapore-skewed vignettes on the ambitious subject of happiness, devised over a year by Jeff Chen, marking his return to theatre and directing after a ten-year hiatus.
‘It’s a favour for a friend. I still don’t know how I feel about coming back to theatre,’ the 38-year-old Chen says lightly. Charming and erudite, he was a celebrated local playwright, director, dramaturge and academic whose projects travelled as far as Ireland, India, Korea and Macau – before he quietly left the scene.
‘I have this restless soul, and theatre didn’t satisfy my thirst. So I went off to teach film studies at a university, then to do my PhD in Cambridge’ he explains. ‘[Actress] Noorlinah Mohamed was also doing her PhD at Warwick and would take long bus rides to visit me. She said she really wanted to work with me again, so I said if I survived this, I’d make her a little present.’
The present turned out to be anything but little. Aside from a stellar cast consisting of Peter Sau, Nora Samosir and Mohamed, Chen will also be directing a hundred-person ensemble, made up of non-professional members of the public who have been invited to be part of the show.
‘After some research, we found that despite this relatively peaceful, prosperous era, the whole issue of happiness is of increasingly widespread academic interest. So we’re not really happy, are we?’ he challenges. ‘Recent psychological findings say about 50 percent of happiness is predetermined by your genetic make-up, explaining why some people are always happy. External factors like suffering only influence ten percent of happiness, and as for the remaining 40 percent? It’s in your hands. You can put in effort to be happy.’
As for the slightly awkward phrasing for its title, Love Is Flower The, Chen explains that the words are thus arranged simply because they wanted an acronym that is pronounceable (LIFT). ‘So many people might say, oh god that’s so whimsical,’ he laughs. ‘But I think if you see the performance, the whimsicality is in the performance. Plus it makes it clear to the audience from the start that this is not going to be your usual linear narrative.’