Written and composed by Nick Choo, the 2014 BOH Cameronian Arts Award winning musical, The Edge is back in its 10th anniversary production,presently under the direction of Christopher Ling who is the artistic director of the theatre collective, theatrethreesixty.
We chat with the director and the cast, Michael Chen, Michelle Tan and Ping Khoo about bringing back the musical on stage after its route from Malaysia to Australia, the themes of family and mental health and the stereotype that musical theatre has to always be a joyous and fun event.
1. Describe the journey of restaging a play that has been exceptionally celebrated especially for its 10th year anniversary.
Chris: ‘The Edge’ holds a special place in my heart as the very first musical I worked on 10 years ago. I have many fond memories of that workshop performance. Coming back to working on it 10 years later is a rather surreal blessing because the work means so much more now to me personally. Life’s experiences have helped me shape a more nuanced response to the themes, characters and events contained within the work.
Michael: ‘The Edge ‘has always been on my radar after I had the privilege of being part of the workshop performance in 2008. It was my first musical. The experience of being part of such an awesome piece of work that told such a universal story about relationships and being human centred around the idea of suicide, sadness and depression stayed with me. Even the songs literally never left me as the recordings from rehearsals would frequently come up in my playlist over the years! I am not ashamed to say that I brought up the idea of restaging it and specifically wanting to be involved with both Chris and Nick every chance I got throughout the years. It does feel like somewhat of a full circle for me since I was playing ‘Jarod’ in 2008, a character who should be in his mid 30’s. Fast forward to today, in which I am literally in my mid 30’s and playing ‘Jarod’ again.
Michelle: Interestingly enough I watched the 2013 staging of the show and I loved it back then. It’s been such an honor to be able to bring this story back to life especially during a time when people are becoming more knowledgeable about mental health issues.
Ping: I wasn’t able to catch the 2013 production, which is a little regretful. But now to be able to participate in the 10th anniversary, it is such a great honour. Also quite nerve- wracking since it is the 10th year since it’s been workshop. Definitely would want to do justice to the character and embodied it well.
2. How do the cast relate to the themes of ‘The Edge’; whether they find that the story touches a nerve in their personal lives or do the familial issues feel alien and new?
Chris: Suicide is a thought or idea that is undeniably close to many people, albeit kept under wraps almost all the time. The thought finds it root in very universal issues, common to every one of us – the lack of love, acceptance, belonging, meaning in life. Each member of cast has had to dig deep into themselves and without doubt have found that necessary link to the heart of the work. That, in turn, enriches their characterisation.
Michael: For me, all stories worth telling come down to relationships. Like the saying goes, ‘no man is an island’. ‘The Edge’ is exceptionally strong on this. You are literally watching 6 people examine their actions and motives in relation to one person, ‘Josh’ who is on the brink of suicide. All of them wondering, was it my fault through action or non- action that ‘Josh’ is where he is now?
Personally, the themes in ‘The Edge’ for all the characters have something that I can relate with. Some more than others. I’ve felt like ‘April’ who wants to help but feels like it’s not her place. The jealousy that ‘Michael’ feels when ‘Josh’ seems to have everything he wants in life come to him so easily is totally relatable too. I also feel tremendous empathy for ‘Lily’, ‘Deanna’ and ‘Ryan’ who all have issues that I have encountered on some level in my life.
As for ‘Jarod’, his insecurities about every aspect of himself which he masks with a ‘saviour complex’, thinking he would discover what he seeks for if he can prove that he can save other people. But all the while, he actually needed to ‘save himself’ first.
Michelle: Definitely touches a nerve; there are so many things going on in the show albeit in a dysfunctional way but at the end of the day the show is about relationships and how they affect anyone’s lives. It’s relatable on so many levels.
Ping: Personally, I would find parts of me in all characters on different levels.
3. The common misconception to musicals is that it is a medium used to tell a romance, a tragedy or even something that is bubbly and joyous; where does ‘The Edge’ stand in this spectrum or is the play the opposite of these themes?
Chris: ‘The Edge’ has the pleasure of tackling some rather thorny issues in an amusing (at times) and thought-provoking way. Besides, humour and a little “song and dance” always goes a long way to bring the message across. The messenger fits the message and vice-versa.
Michael: It is my personal opinion that ‘The Edge’ takes the audience (and even us actors) through the entire spectrum of romance, tragedy and joy. That’s why it is so good. Because that’s what life is all about isn’t it?
That being said, I think what makes this musical ‘seem’ different to the bigger song & dance musicals is that it is very, very raw in it’s attempt to seek the truth of each character.
Which allows anybody who watches it to feel engaged and challenges them to face certain truths about themselves, if they wanted it to. ‘The Edge’ is not a loud affair with tons of bells and whistles to distract the audience. But in fact, it’s a series of quiet moments told in song.
Michelle: ‘The Edge’ stands to challenge those misconceptions. You can say Nick Choo was way ahead of his time when he crafted this 10 years ago. The last decade has seen the emergence of a lot more musicals dedicated to exploring the human condition for example shows like ‘Next to Normal’ and ‘Dear Evan Hansen’.
Ping: I think musical theatre one of the different medium to convey messages. With music, which is very accessible to the public, people are able to be receive messages easier even if the language is not what we know ,we would still be able to feel it. ‘The Edge’ would be more towards the tragedy spectrum.
4. What is the expectation for the audience with regards to the restaging of ‘The Edge’?
Chris: This restaging of ‘The Edge’ has been built from scratch. The only throwbacks to the 2008 workshop performance and the 2013 premiere are actors Michael Chen and Tria Aziz as well as some movement ideas from the first staging. Everything else is brand spanking new. I daresay Malaysia has never seen an intimate, actor-driven chamber musical like this before. Proximity and total engagement spring to mind in a 40-seater Blackbox.
Michael: If this is your first time watching ‘The Edge’, you’re in for a treat on several levels. On one level, Chris, our prolific director, uses the phrase ‘intimate chamber musical’. And try as I might to look as far back as 2003, I don’t think I’ve ever heard much less seen a musical in this way in Malaysia. So even if you have watched the previous full staging in 2013, this will hit you in different ways that you probably can’t even imagine. Maybe, if you watched the 2008 workshop performance, then something will seem familiar. On another level, bring your tissues because you will smile, laugh and you most likely will cry. And that’s ok. We are forced ‘not to feel’ in our day to day lives. I hope the audience walks away from ‘The Edge’ feeling something. Even if it’s just for that short time in the intimate blackbox that is Lot’ng.
Michelle: Just come in with an open heart and an open mind.
Ping: With the staging of this production, I think the audience would have a more intimate experience. Up close and personal with the characters.
theatrethreesixty’s The Edge will premiere on 8th December 2018 until 23rd December at Lot’ng Art Space, Subang Jaya.
Featured Image source: Tarrant Kwok.