Directed by Fini Liu and produced by Sally Chen, Love Letters tells the story between a boy and a girl who were separated at a young age but remained in contact through the exchange of letters.
Lisa (Angel Xiao) and Twig (Fini Liu) have known each other since their childhood, and through years of letter writing, they learn about each other’s pain, happiness, growth, success, and fears throughout each other’s lives.
This play was like no other I’ve seen before. Almost solely reliant on dialogue and seen through the eyes of both characters as two parallel, despite next to no direct interaction with each other, the chemistry and the tie between Xiao and Liu’s characters was strong. It forced the audience to fill in the gap with their imagination and really build the lives of Lisa and Twig. From early childhood to adulthood, the simple use of props and humble costuming showcased the different stages of their life. I did not expect the play to cover 40 years of their lifespan and experiences so clearly in a short 1-hour play.
Not only was there the challenge to explore the lives of these two individuals and the paths they took in Love Letters, but it covered very important topics of family pressures, gender equality, cultural differences, as well as mental health. Growing up in a very traditional Chinese family myself, I related to cultural differences faced in the play. When sandwiched between traditional and conservative expectations, and the freedom of choice and speech endorsed in the Western society; how does one adapt and find what is the ‘right’ way for yourself?
Both Liu and Xiao had such an astounding performance and had me focused on every little detail of their performance. Being a bilingual play, I was lucky enough to understand its entirety without reliance on the subtitles. I would believe that some small aspects may be missed to non-Chinese speakers as the Old Council Chambers at Festival Hub: Trades Hall is a small intimate venue and may have some obstruction to the subtitles depending on where you are seated.
Xiao’s depiction of Lisa and her successes and struggles in life was sensational. Her joys, her sorrows, and her fears were felt, as if they were magnified and transcended directly into the audience. The complexities of her life was a rollercoaster and the audience were strapped in with her for the duration of the ride. This contrasted greatly with Liu’s character that was meant to be put together, stable, and conservative. Their on-stage chemistry was captivating, and you couldn’t help but adore the characters. I found myself thoroughly invested and attentive at every choice of theirs, as well as their flaws.
There was no flashy stage lighting nor was there a fancy backdrop and this show didn’t need it. Strictly through the exchange of words and emotion, I fell in love with the story and characters of Love Letters. Despite setting off from the same starting point, Xiao’s Lisa and Liu’s Twig took polar opposite paths, but their hearts were always linked. Love Letters is a beautiful piece of art that really moved me and pushed me to reflect, relate, and appreciate both love and life.
Love Letters is currently playing as part of 2023 Melbourne Fringe at Festival Hub: Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers until Sunday October 22nd.
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Photography by La Luna.