You can use this synopsis to help you understand and interpret the play, but you shouldn't take it all as fact - it is simply my interpretation of the characters, themes and events, and there will be alternative interpretations that you may come up with. Use it as a springboard to develop your own ideas - and feel free to question my interpretations! Add your interpretations to the discussion board!

As long as your ideas and interpretations are supported by evidence in the play and you can argue them convincingly and persuasively, then you should have confidence in them - it is much better to develop your own ideas than rely too much on those of others.

Prologue
Boom opens in a cemetery, and with the sound of progress evident – a loud ‘booming’ noise which Tay describes as ‘the sound of construction’. It topples a headstone in the cemetery, which is promptly righted by a hand, which we may assume to be a corpse, appearing from the ground. With this, Tay establishes one of the key themes of her play – Progress, at the expense of everything it seems – and suggests to the audience that the play will not be entirely naturalistic.

Act One
Scene 1: ‘The Showflat’

Act One, Scene One follows neatly on from the Prologue, by picking up the theme of Progress, with the sales people of Progress – property agents. Along with Boon, ‘an enthusiastic property agent’, we have a ‘chorus’ of two other agents selling their wares. Immediately we can see the ‘language of sales’ – excessive adjectives (‘Luxurious’, ‘Spacious’), hyperbolic (exaggerated) concepts (‘Paradise’, ‘Eden’, ‘Heaven’) and a focus on the positives of the sale (‘En Bloc Potential’, ‘Guaranteed Returns’). The excessive use of exclamation marks conveys the agents’ enthusiasm – but we know it is their own commission they are thinking of, rather than the customer’s benefit.

As soon as the agents have created this positive impression of the imagined apartments they are selling, it is undercut by Tay in a very comic manner. The reality of the cramped, claustrophobic apartments become evident (‘Of Other People’s Swimming Pool’, ‘And Other People’s Dirty Laundry’). At this, Boon shows us the first sign that he has not quite perfected the ‘agent speak’ when he ‘looks doubtfully at them’.

They continue to focus on the location (‘Near Good School’) – picking up on key aspects of Singaporean dreams and aspirations – getting your children into a good school and having a good education, being close to an MRT and being close to ‘Orchard’ (and probably the shopping it represents). However, obviously not all places can be so fantastically located, as some must be near ‘Gambling Den’, ‘Porn Shops’, ‘Funeral Parlours’ – but its ok, these can be made positive – cemeteries become ‘peaceful and green’, porn shops and gambling dens ‘exciting nightlife’.

Boon marks himself as a new, inexperienced property agent when he shows no knowledge of this (‘What?’), something which is picked up by Agent 2 (‘How long have you been selling property?’). The process by which property is sold is then demonstrated very obviously to us – Agent 1 explains that ‘The trick is Imagination…’, that he must sell a ‘Lifestyle’ to the customer. It shows clearly that they play on people’s dreams and aspirations (another theme in the play) – what people dream of getting.

As such, Boon is told he must create a vision for them (‘When you show them the window that can see that super ugly tree….Let them imagine being woken up in the morning’). This particular vision foreshadows Boon’s own mother, who loves her (perhaps ugly) fig tree more than anything, because of the memories she has associated with it. Interestingly, the ‘Orioles’ the agents then refer to are also known as ‘fig birds’. The agents continue to play on their customers wildest dreams and hopes – even if they are clearly misguided (‘Never mind if actually, the poor gin na is going to spend most of his time locked up in that pathetic excuse of a study, doing 10-year series’). Such references root the play very strongly in its Singaporean context.

Tay creates a very humorous, but also scathing portrayal of the agents, who are clearly shown to be duping their customers into buying something that won’t deliver all that is promised (‘Life will be perfect once they move into their dream home’). The agents themselves know this, and seem to find it a source of amusement (‘No quarrel that cannot be solved by A1 designer décor and a private lift lobby’). The final comment, spoken in unison by all, reeks of the economic drive of these people (and perhaps the country as a whole) – ‘Bring that cheque’.

Scene 2 – ‘Moving Out’

Scene 2 represents a strong antithesis (opposite) of Scene 1, with a ‘cluttered ground floor flat’ with a ‘whole shelf full of tacky souvenir figurines’. Instead of the gleaming ‘Showflat’ of the previous scene, what we see in Scene 2 is a portrayal of reality – an average HDB flat and an ordinary life. At the start of the scene, we do not know that Boon lives here, so from the way he is described as ‘examining the furnishings with a critical eye’ we might assume that he is here to sell the property. The title of the scene, ‘Moving Out’, could also lead us to this assumption.

Boon’s first speech shows he is still in his ‘agent persona’, suggesting to ‘get a new paint job’, ‘change the kitchen cabinets’, and ‘clear away this rubbish’. As we see from his mother’s response (‘Eh eh…Le gah wah bang lok keh’), he misses the sentimental value of the statues to her and sees them simply as ‘rubbish’. His mother, however, associates memories and times with them (‘Malacca. September 1974. Honeymoon, hor’), picking up on one of Tay’s themes of History & Memories. She can recall where each of them are from. On the other hand, Boon just sees the age of them as a negative thing (‘Aiyoh…Got anything from this century or not?’). This indicates to us Tay’s concern with how the history of Singapore was disappearing in the name of progress – such as the National Library. When he criticizes the statue which is scotch taped, his mother reprimands and reminds him that it was him who broke it (‘Oh…Forgot’).

Despite the seeming animosity between Boon and his mother, we can see a fondness between the two which is shown in their familiar, colloquial way of speaking. Both frequently use Hokkien, Malay, Cantonese and Mandarin to express perhaps the intricacies of their emotions which perhaps cannot be captured in English. It is very different to Boon’s style of speaking in the previous scene, showing that he is one of the younger generation of Singaporeans who is able to code switch – that is, to use a more standard form of English for formal situations.

Boon’s mother wants to know where he’s been, although she clearly is more interested in why he’s late for dinner (‘she finishes laying out the dishes’) than because she wants to know about his property work. Boon claims this one is ‘special’ which is immediately undercut with his mother’s humorous response to the fact it has a sea view (‘makes me want to vomit’). She likes the familiar (‘I like looking out of my window, at my little tree’), and we sense that Boon has perhaps tried to convince her to move before, hence her strange reasoning (‘Sea sick’). This comment creates a sense of a cycle happening – in the previous scene, the agents tried to sell property with the tree, now Boon is trying to convince his mother to sell, it is what is keeping her here.

His mother becomes increasingly defensive (‘You don’t touch my tree. Don’t touch my statues. Don’t touch my things’), the repeated negatives showing her annoyance. These things are more than concrete items; they are her life, which Boon does not yet understand. The ‘ugly stickers’ on the walls she remembers fondly as Boon’s childhood obsession with Superman and Ultraman. Her amused recall of the time (‘And jump jump jump from sofa to sofa, rescuing don’t-know-who’) shows how fondly she sees it. Boon’s response (‘No I don’t) seems strange, given that he clearly does remember when his mother pushes him for the name of the rock which could defeat Superman (‘(after a long pause) Kryptonite’). Is he trying to suppress his childhood memories?

The battle between them over the house continues, with Boon seemingly trying to employ some of his ‘sales speak’ with his mother (‘You want to go see snow or not, Ma?’). But she is a difficult customer and blocks him at every turn with humorous responses (‘I open freezer can see already what’). Her final response is more personal, perhaps indicating that she remembers the economic crash of 1997 (which Tay writes about in her play Plunge) and knows better than him about property (‘In the end, everything also crash’).

We then get to the real reason why it cannot be sold (‘It belongs to him’) and we mysterious are told (‘It’s been fifteen years, Ma’). We’re left in suspense.

Scene 3 – ‘The New Burial System’

Scene 3 draws directly on an actual law in Singapore which was passed, allowing all bodies which have been buried to be dug up after 15 years (see Singapore in 2007 for a longer explanation). We join the Director and Jeremiah, a civil servant, in the Land Ministry, part way through a conversation about the law. Jeremiah seems uncertain about the idea (‘Shouldn’t they have the right to rest in peace for just a bit longer than fifteen years’), speaking perhaps for those who felt the law was perhaps taking progress to far. The Director, on the other hand, is brutal in her support of it (‘Do you have a problem with that?’). Both speak a very formal, business English which contrasts directly with the scene which precedes it.

The Director is clearly a strong character who does not like people to question her. She refers to Jeremiah as ‘Jerry’, showing her lack of care in getting her employees’ names correct. On the other hand, Jeremiah is clearly a very uncertain character, who almost allows himself to be bullied by her. She throws a series of questions at him (‘What is more precious?’, ‘And who is more important’) perhaps designed to overwhelm him into following her. She is Progress at its most brutal – sacrificing the Dead for the Living, maximizing the space available (‘It is only natural that we should optimize our most precious resource’). Tay is perhaps creating a caricature of the type of civil servant who makes such decisions, parodying (making humourous) the process of decision making in Singapore’s government ministries (‘Here at the Ministry, we always Re…’). She explains to him that the policy is simply the government way.

Indeed, in her comment ‘No point arguing in an ivory tower’, which she uses to dismiss Jeremiah’s concerns, is perhaps rather ironic – suggesting that this is just what the government does. She suggests he ‘makes a site visit’, to ‘interview the relevant stakeholders’, using the terms ‘stakeholders’ and ‘site visit’ to distance herself from the reality of what is being done – the dead being dug up. The pun (double meaning) with ‘go see what the situation on the ground is. Or in the ground, for that matter’ shows us that perhaps Jeremiah’s concerns are valid. She gives him the option to find out for himself, but the fact he must ‘submit his site report next Monday’ shows that she’s not really giving him any choice in the matter.

Scene 4 – Housing Agents – Teasing Boon

We return to the property agents in Scene 4, where Tay continues to create the greedy, materialistic image of them. Agent 1 has ‘the keys to Paradise’ – his new condo – with all the views, facilities and things that they sell to others. Clearly they themselves, when creating the myth of luxury living for others, also want it for themselves. Boon, still living with his mother in an old, run down apartment is immediately jealous (‘enviously Nice…..’), as is Agent 2, who we are told will not move into his luxury condo later this year. Until then, like many other young Singaporeans he lives with his in-laws (‘until I want to vomit blood’).

We hear that Boon has tried dabbling in property market, but without great success (‘I lost so much money on that one’), which was perhaps what his mother referred to at the end of Scene 2. The other agents tease him that he still lives with his mother (‘He is still staying with his mother!’). We see that Boon is probably disappointed with how his life is – no condo, like his fellow agents, no girlfriend….is something holding him back?

Agent 2 makes an interesting social reflection, when chastising Agent 1 for not being a filial son, seen as an admirable quality (‘Not all like that, stay in posh condo while your father stay in tai ping lao ren yuan’). In this, our respect for Boon perhaps grows a little, as we see that he has not done this. Ironically, the place he is living in is called ‘Zion Mansions’ (Zion was the Biblical holy land for Jewish people) – not such a dream holy place for Boon.

At the end of the scene, we have an indication of what is to come for Boon and his mother (‘You mean it hasn’t gone en bloc yet?’), which at this point Boon is unaware and naïve of (‘En bloc?’). Little does he know, it will be the answer to his problems of getting his mother out of her home.

Scene 5 – Boon’s Dream

Scene 5 represents a continuation in a way of Scene 4, (‘lights fade on the other agents, but spotlight remains on Boon’) which Tay frequently uses to show transitions between present and past. In Boon’s monologue, he again thinks of the flat, ‘possibly in his imagination’. It is a strongly negative memory (‘Residue’, ‘Stains’) showing to us that it is not the age of the flat which makes him want to leave (‘But how to erase the history of your own life?’). He personifies the bad memories (‘And black grime strangles the bathroom taps, like alien tentacles out of a B-grade movie), using a popular culture reference to demonstrate how trapped he is.

We also see his anger and bitterness towards his father (‘And it’s all his fault’), because its his father’s memory that is trapping his mother there. Even though his father has gone, he ‘may as well be here’. Tay continues the Superman reference, which is beginning to be developed as a metaphor for Boon’s struggle – his father is likened to kryptonite, which was the only thing which could weaken Superman. He feels that it is preventing him from being what he can be (‘Forcing me to wait like sme gu niang, for somebody else to come and rescue me’).

Scene 6 – The Servant and the Corpse

We return to Jeremiah in Scene 6, and the ‘booming sounds of construction’. We see Jeremiah’s uncertainty of himself immediately, as he curses himself for his clumsiness (‘Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit’). The frequent interruptions in his first speech shows us an unconfident, uncertain man. When he can’t get out what he wants to say, he relies on his file (‘In line with the government’s Triple RE strategy…’). The ‘government speak’ is full of the same kind of ‘positive negatives’ that the sales people use (‘I am pleased to inform you that your grave will be part of Phase One of this exhumation exercise’). It is filled with vague nouns (‘Next of kin’, ‘exhumation exercise’) and positive adjectives (‘space saving’). At the end, he resorts to his own speech (‘So if you don’t mind, Mr Chan’).

It is at this point that Tay really introduces the supernatural element to her play, as the corpse responds to Jeremiah (‘No’). Jeremiah himself cannot believe what he is hearing. Initially the audience may find themselves questioning the reality of this situation. But it is another clever aspect of Tay’s writing – she quickly develops the corpse into a realistic character, also with a story to tell, and representing the history of Singapore which she feels is being threatened by progress.

The corpse repeats himself (‘no, no, no’) while Jeremiah questions his sanity (‘I knew I shouldn’t have had that Red Bull before coming here’). He curses the Director for sending him here (‘Talk to the stakeholders, she said’). The corpse grows irritated (‘I said no, you hear me?’), to which Jeremiah finally responds (‘I’m sorry did you say something?’). He continues to show his uncertainty in the face of another strong character (‘Well, um…’).

Jeremiah tries to defend the action to the corpse by quoting him specific figures, missing the point of what the corpse is trying to say. It is a very comic scene where the two struggle to understand each other, perhaps representative of the conflict between the generations that we see throughout the play. The corpse’s concern is that his name is wrong (‘Not Chan Ah Gow’), but what we actually discover (after more comic confusion between the two characters) is that he actually has no idea who he is. Jeremiah tries to prompt his memory (‘Married, single, divorced, widowed? Any children?’), which irritates the corpse more.

What the corpse is preoccupied with is the noise (‘Sound. That sound’), the noise which opens the play. Tay uses the noise throughout the play to represent so many things; but here the onomatopoeic word shows the disturbance of the past by the march of progress. The corpse cannot rest in peace (‘Boom, boom, boom’). Jeremiah explains it for him as ‘the sound of construction. The sound of progress’. However, he does not seem certain of it as ‘progress’. The corpse clearly finds it distressing as he asks, ‘Is this heaven or hell?’ Jeremiah misses his point, and gives him his literal location (‘This is Choa Chu Kang Cemetery’), giving the corpse a dose of the reality of his situation (‘How long have I been here?’).

Jeremiah, uncertain of himself again, relies on his official file to give the corpse the news that he will be moved. The corpse is not accepting it, rather like Boon’s mother (the stories are paralleled throughout the play) and is angry (‘Don’t touch me!’). Jeremiah tries to rely on his official line (‘In line with our effective space allocation strategy’) but becomes more and more flustered in the face of the corpse’s anger (‘Die one time already! No more!, ‘You’re trying to kick me out! I’m not going!’). He eventually leaves, humorously defeated by the corpse (‘GO!!!’).

The scene ends with the ‘the booming of construction [getting] louder’, suggesting perhaps that the march of progress is coming, and will begin to affect the characters that we are slowly getting to know.

Scene 7 – Persuasion – mother and son

The title of the scene immediately suggests a continuation of this idea of progress, particularly as the ‘sound of booming fades into the pounding of Mother’s pestle as she crushes garlic’, providing a link between the two. The first words spoken continue to animosity between the two over the sale of the flat (‘Mai xiao lah!’). We also realize that Boon now knows what an en bloc sale is, and is clearly determined to persuade his mother to do it (‘But you get everyone to sell together, that’s when it happens’). His mother is still blocking him with everything he says (‘Classy your head’).

He states the example of Tong Gardens down the road, but his mother is still convinced that, like her, no one will sell. Boon knows that people will be swayed by the figures (‘They’ll be queuing up to sign’). Faced with his mother’s refusal, he tries to point out to her the problems with the flat (‘It’s old and rotting. The wiring like shit like that’), seeing only the surface issues. For her the flat is much more than that – she doesn’t want lots of trees, she only wants hers (‘Don’t Ma me. You know how I feel about this place.’)

Using his full name, like he is a naughty child (‘Tan Tiong Boon. Don’t you dare do anything to my home.’) she says she ‘has no son like you’ if he sells her home. The pounding of her pestle throughout should provide the scene with a visual proof of her refusal, and perhaps the pounding of Boon’s dreams of getting out of the house.

Scene 8 – Memories of the new house

Like Boon’s monologue before, Tay links the two scenes with Boon still present, but seeing a memory (not his – his mother’s – perhaps linked by the pestle which he has just picked up) of his mother first being shown the flat by her new husband (his father). His young mother calls his father ‘Le si lang tau’, a repeated phrase she will often use to describe him later in the play (and perhaps apt, seeing as he leaves her). At this point, Tay uses dramatic irony (when the audience knows what the characters don’t), as the audience and Boon know Young Father will leave, but Young Mother does not yet know.

She is being shown the flat for the first time and loves it, although is concerned her cannot afford it (‘Not enough then borrow lor’). This is an interesting comment, which later proves to be the case. She claims she will enjoy life here, not work and let him bring her the money. In an echo of Boon in the present, he tells her ‘It’s an investment. Can still sell and make money’. She rejects this (‘Everything also money money money’), the way she rejects Boon also.

Young Mother loves everything about the house she is being shown, which we see is because it is the first time she has something of her own, which is new (‘No one else has lived here before’). In some ways this is an echo of the present – Boon’s problem with the flat is that it has too many memories – he wants to go somewhere with none, like a fresh, new flat. In a further echo of Boon, Young Father tells her she is ‘Xiao zha boh’. He is still aspiring to more (‘I’ll buy you a big bungalow, want or not?’), the Singaporean dream still strong within him. Young Mother tells him, ‘Your dreams are too big for me’, which they prove to be, as in the present she is still in the same place and he has gone.

Scene 9 – Corpses and ghosts

Scene 9 is a strongly philosophical monologue for Jeremiah, who is uncharacteristically eloquent. He could be reflecting on his experience in Scene 6 with the corpse, but seems to almost be narrating Boon’s emotions. As he says ‘Ghosts haunt’; Boon is haunted by the memory of his father which permeates the flat (‘They are insubstantial, drifting in and out of walls, leaving no trace when they pass, except for a feeling of coldness, of dampness’). Boon feels that the flat is dark, but this is perhaps because of the memories there.

However, Jeremiah also seems to be reflecting on his own problem with the corpse, trying to convince himself (not very convincingly) that a corpse doesn’t matter (‘Corpses on the other hand are muddy, mucky, stinking of rotton fruit and decomposing meat’). He does not manage to convince himself though, as at the end he reflects that in the process of decomposing, ‘you leave your own corpse-shaped imprint on the earth.’

Scene 10 – A neighbourly chat

We are told that that this is a ‘Neighbourly Chat […] again’, which indicates that it this is a common occurrence for Mother and the Neighbour (although we haven’t yet seen it in the play). It immediately sets up the conflict between the generations, which is seen throughout the play (‘They’re waiting for me to die’). The female neighbour feels the same as Mother, although her focus is more on the money (‘they’re offering us peanuts’). Mother counters this with her comment, ‘This place is worth more than any amount of money’.

Showing the difference in ideas between the young and old in the play (and perhaps in Singaporean society in general), the neighbour replies that ‘of course these young people don’t care lah. Everything must have new one’. In the case of Boon, the audience now knows that his reason for selling the flat is not just to get something new, but also to avoid painful memories. In this sense, although the young are shown to misunderstand the old, the old also seem to misunderstand the young.

The two women reminisce, showing how closely they live together (as suggested by the agents in Act 1, Scene 1) – particularly about when the neighbour’s husband’s underwear fell into Mother’s backyard and Boon uses them for the Superman outfit (clearing up the mystery from Act One, Scene Two). But the inevitability of the sale of the flats seems to be growing (‘They say they just need one or two more signatures’). The neighbour reveals Boon was with those trying to encourage people to sell, which infuriates his mother (‘That boy, I don’t know what’s wrong with him’). The neighbour suggests that Mother write in to complain (‘Complain? To who?’), having confidence in the government organizations to do right by people (‘What do you think those civil servants are there for?’).

Scene 11 – Chorus of civil servants – complaint letter

Echoing the first scene of the play with its ‘Chorus’ of agents, in this scene we have a ‘Chorus of Civil Servants’. It is a very similar scene, which parodies the idea of the civil service and the process of answering complaint letters. It picks up on the confidence in Act One, Scene 10 that the female neighbour shows in civil servants, and completely ruins it (‘We think it’s a bunch of lousy bullshit, and we really have much better ways of spending our time than dealing with crap like this’).

Like the first scene of the play, it begins positively, with the Director, Jeremiah and a colleague all writing response letters, using very similar ideas in each. Perhaps demonstrating the different generations writing in, the three are responding to a letter (the old generation?), an email (the young?) and a telephone call (the middle aged?). The colleague suggests that these people are persistent (‘And the one on 1 February at 3.49pm, 3 February at 5.30pm, 5 February’). Like the agents, they use positive sounding language to veil negativity (‘under these circumstances’, ‘given the current considerations…’). The colleague undercuts it all, like the agents, with the line quoted above.

This scene serves to emphasise that Mother’s request will not receive a positive response. It also suggests that the corpse will also have no choice but to be moved, despite communicating with Jeremiah.

Scene 12 – Cubicle chat

Scene 12 further emphasizes the government’s lack of care for the people it affects, as Jeremiah and his colleague are described as ‘folding paper aeroplanes and crushing paper balls from the complaint letters’. Jeremiah reveals the reason for his reluctance (‘I’m serving my bond’), and perhaps shows a common trait in the civil service. However he is idealistic (‘We serve the people’), hence why he has been chosen by Tay to be the one who speaks to the corpse.

Tay subtly places a reference to Mother (‘The estate is how old already, but she’s going on and on about her fig tree’) in the colleague’s hands, showing the audience that nothing can help Mother’s quest to save her home and her tree. The colleague dismisses her memories (‘Sentimental value blah blah blah’) indicating that memories have no place in the progress of Singapore.

Jeremiah speaks about his site visit, which as he says went ‘not so good’. The colleague, sounding like the property agents, suggests he should just enjoy getting ‘a bit of fresh air, greenery’. Jeremiah reveals that he can actually ‘talk to corpses’, which the colleague greets with hysteria (‘What…Like in Sixth Sense? You see dead people?’). With morbid curiosity, the colleague enquires more about his gift, which Jeremiah reveals as something he has been able to do since his mother died when he was 8.

Despite Jeremiah’s talking to the corpse, we sense that he will probably not help him, as he states, ‘He’s not my corpse. I’ve got nothing to do with him’ and then ‘we’re about policies, not people, right?’). Jeremiah in this scene offers very conflicting ideas about the nature of his job – all more evidence that he is uncertain and unsure of himself. At the end, the Director is calling for him, a reminder that he will have to make a decision about the corpse very soon.

Scene 13 – Memory of the red underwear

Scene 13 returns us to the past again, an almost continuation of Act One, Scene 10, when Mother and the female Neighbour spoke about the day when Boon found her husband’s underwear in their backyard. Young Mother is chasing Boon (wearing the underwear) around the flat (‘Give me back the underwear’). Boon is playing make believe (‘I’m not Tiong Boon, Ma! I’m Clark Kent!’) and believes he has found Superman’s underwear in his back yard. He seems happy and carefree – perhaps another reason for the Superman metaphor Tay develops.

Running offstage, Young Mother calls after him (‘Watch out for my statues’) and with ‘the sound of something breaking’, we realize this is the memory spoken about in Act One, Scene Two, when Boon picks up the statue which is scotch taped. She warns him at the end, ‘You wait till your father comes home’.

Scene 14 – Corpse monologue

We return to the corpse (which we don’t yet know is the father – an interesting link between the scenes), whose monologue we hear. He is reflecting on the process of death, paralleling in many ways Mother’s want to stay in the place where she’s always known. There is a play on words with the idea of ‘R.I.P’, that the father would like to ‘Rot in Peace’. At the end, he says he wishes ‘to leave something behind’, showing us that the movement of corpses, as the law in Singapore allows, takes something away from the process of death. It cheats the dead of something that they should be allowed.

Scene 15 – Jeremiah and boss

In Scene 15, Tay picks up where we left off in Act One, Scene 12, with Jeremiah being called to the Director’s office. In this scene, the Director is furious that Jeremiah has not yet submitted his report, and that he is claiming that he is having problems (‘unhitch it and get the report out’). His claim that the corpse doesn’t want to be moved does not go down well (‘This is not a consultation process. This is an implementation process’), as she seems to think that they should just carry out the process, not give people their chance to say something.

She again calls him ‘Jerry’, further undermining him. She ridicules him (‘like a primary student on an assignment’, ‘Just because somebody’s a scholar’), suggesting he doesn’t want to do his job properly. In fact, Jeremiah is taking over care in his job, but he lets himself be bullied by her again (‘Yes, I mean no. I mean. Monday. Monday is fine.’

Scene 16 – Argument between mother and son

Scene 16 picks up on the news Mother receives in Act One, Scene 10 that Boon has been involved in the en bloc sale persuasion of her neighbours. She is angry (‘Like how do you expect me to show my face to other people, huh?’), but Boon cannot see what he has done wrong (‘I don’t see what’s the big deal’). She sees that he is interfering and disturbing people, where as he sees it as helping (and also helping himself). Like she said to Young Father in Act One, Scene 8, she claims all he can think about is ‘money, money, money’. She thinks he doesn’t care, which we know is wrong – but he cares in the wrong way about the place.

In another comic interchange between the two of them, Mother implores Boon to ‘taste it’, meaning the wall. Boon thinks she is ‘Xiao ah’ (a commonly used phrase by both of them), but does it anyway, probably to satisfy his mother. She claims it tastes of her sweat and blood, trying to prove to him the effort and love she’s put into this house. Again, Boon claims she’s ‘Xiao liao lah’. The relationship and conflict between them seems to have reached a stalemate – she saying ‘if you’ve had enough then go lah’, he wants ‘normal walls’. He reveals he’s only stayed because of her, otherwise ‘you die here also nobody know’. Although she claims she does not need him, the audience can see she does – nearly all her memories involve him, and he is her last link to his missing father. As we’ve already seen, he is becoming very much like his father, particularly in the insistence on money.

The scene ends with Boon storming out, and Mother ‘pounding furiously with her pestle’ – perhaps determined to crush his dreams further or representing the anger she cannot express in any other way.

Scene 17 – Memory of young mother and father

Still angry, but in the past, Scene 17 opens with Young Mother ‘also pounding angrily with her pestle’. She is angry with Young Father this time, as it appears he is going away business again (‘That’s what you said last time. Then in the end…’). This seems a change from the last memory of them in Act One, Scene 8. There is perhaps an implication that he is keeping things from her. He tries to placate her by promising to bring her a present (‘You like dried mango there right?’), or of taking them for a holiday (‘Maybe we can go to the mountains, then you can see snow’). In Act One, Scene 2 Boon tried to persuade her with the thought of snow, indicating to us at this point that Young Father never took them for the holiday he promised.

There is much dramatic irony in this scene, when Young Father says, ‘Why, you scared I won’t come back, is it?’, as we know at some point he does not. Young Mother’s response is ‘I wish’, which she gets. Young Father seems eternally optimistic (‘I got a good feeling about this trip’) and dreaming (‘I tell you, you are going to live like a queen’). He has clearly promised her much over their life together – but the only thing she actually has is the flat, which is why she seems so reluctant to lose it in the present. Like she says to Boon in Act One, Scene 7 when he speaks about how ‘classy’ the apartments could be, she dismisses what Young Father says (‘Queen your head’). In a further parallel, when he begins to sing to her, she tells him ‘Xiao ah’, the phrase Boon repeatedly uses for her. The final comment, repeated from a previous scene, ‘Si lang tau’, is also dramatically ironic for the audience – we know he is.

Scene 18 – Graveside scene

Scene 18 sees Jeremiah back at the Corpse’s graveside, this time speaking to him as a human being (‘Hello? Mr Chan? Mr Chan Ah Gow?’). The corpse is still resistant to him, despite Jeremiah’s efforts to help him. The importance of names and roots is very clear here; Jeremiah reveals that if the corpse has a name and people to claim him, they can ‘request for reburial instead’.

Faced with the corpse’s resistance, Jeremiah loses his patience with him (‘You’re not even trying, Mr Chan!’), noting the absurdity of the situation (‘I mean, you’re a corpse for cripes sake’). Tay did not mean the audience to lose sight of the fact of Jeremiah’s talking to the corpse being unusual. In a comic return, the corpse responds ‘you started it’.

Jeremiah, still struggling with his self image and job, wishes for normality (‘In my small but perfectly climate controlled air conditioned cubicle….making sweeping policies that affect the fate of the entire nation.’), which again seems to be Tay mocking the idea of the civil service. Jeremiah reflects some social tensions, in that he feels like ‘A construction worker or something’, rather than his (implied) better job. His ranting about the heat seems to remind the corpse of something, although we do not yet know what. Jeremiah at this point almost uses the corpse as a counselor of sorts as he recollects his past memories (‘I haven’t been this hot since I was in school, and forced to stand out in the basketball court for punishment’). Even as child, it seems he was a victim and bullied – and his rescuing of this corpse a means to his redemption.

Scene 19 – Housing agents

Following the argument in Act One, Scene 16, Scene 19 shows Boon and one of the property agents. Boon is angry (‘I’ve had enough of her, and enough of that stupid house!) and prepared to dismiss his mother. Agent 2 tries to defend her, showing a different side to them. Boon claims he hates being a property agent, as everyday he sees what he cannot have; instead he is stuck in his mother’s house ‘where the bloody walls smell of her armpits’.

Tay puts the common saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ into Boon’s mouth, which Agent 2 explains the reasoning for (‘Because those people got gardener to pull out the weeds, got maid to water the plants, got dogs to fertilise the garden’) in a comic manner. Boon can see this; and we as the audience know it is much more than ‘fresh paint and varnish’ that Boon wants in a new home.

However, Boon still has no where to stay. Agent 2 suggests that he stay in ‘Paradise’; that is, the Paradise Gardens showflat. Finally, for a short period of time, Boon seems to be getting what he wants. It is not his though, as Agent 2 reminds us at the end with their comment, ‘Just promise me you won’t get caught’.

Scene 20 – Flashback – painting

Scene 20 is the first memory we have of Young Father and a young Boon together – and it is not positive. In it, he is challenging his father what he is doing (‘What happened to the walls?’), which his father responds negatively to (‘You mind your own business, boy’). Young Boon teases him that Mother will be angry like when he ‘draw on the wall with crayon’. Father threatens Boon (‘You better not tell her, or else….’) which Boon challenges, being rather rude to his father. His father is clearly trying to ‘the red scrawls’ from his mother, although we are not certain what its significance is.

In a fit of impulsiveness it seems, Boon ‘kicks over the pot of paint’ his father is using, causing his father to snap. The next time we see them on stage, they are in the backyard ‘with a huge chain and padlock’. Boon is confused and frightened (‘What are you doing? Let me go!), and his father clearly determined to punish him for his insolence (‘You see if you’re still so cocky, after I’m done with you’). Boon protests, but his father is determined to ‘teach you a lesson you won’t forget’. As the audience knows (although until now, not known exactly why), he has never forgotten certain things about the house that he cannot escape from. We understand why Boon wants to leave the house – ‘I hate you! Leave me alone!’. Despite Boon being grown up, and his father having left, he still hates him, but he hasn’t left him alone, at least in his mind. With this and on this very negative note, Act One closes.