Veteran Malaysian actor Patrick Teoh chats with us about finding his character between the lines in Supervision, working in Singapore, and what he loves about performing in the theatre.
Tell us about Teck, your character in Supervision.
Teck is an older retiree, who has just suffered a health setback that makes him less mobile than he used to be. He loses his balance more, which means it’s too dangerous for him to be on his own at home. Presumably, he used to be a fairly successful, fairly active person when he was younger. So he has to come to terms with this physical handicap.
What was the most challenging aspect of playing Teck?
On the page, Teck was quite clear-cut as a character. It wasn’t too difficult to find him, since we’re about the same age and I already have a certain empathy towards how Teck feels. So my challenge was to make him as minimally stereotypical as possible. I looked for lines in the script that point to Teck’s motivations. For instance, there are moments in Supervision that might suggest Teck loves his absent son a bit more than his very present daughter [Jenny, played by Janice Koh]. To me, he actually loves Jenny more – he’s disappointed that his son isn’t taking care of the family, as older sons should do in a traditional Chinese family.
What was the rehearsal process like for Supervision?
It was very pleasurable. I worked with our director, Glen Goei, on a film years ago, so it’s good to reunite with him on Supervision. I always enjoy working with friends in a production! It was great working with our young playwright, Thomas Lim, too. He was very involved in the initial stages of our rehearsal process last year, before we premiered the play at the 2018 Singapore Theatre Festival. Thomas is not one of those playwrights who is precious about what he puts down on paper, so we all had great fun pulling his words apart and adding new things – with his knowledge and permission, of course!
Has anything surprised you about performing in Supervision?
I’ve been genuinely surprised by how the audience has so warmly received each performance. To be frank, I wondered if people would be interested in seeing a play like this when I read the script for the first time. But, as the rehearsal process went along and we discovered the true story between the lines and the characters, it made me realise why people identify with this story about Teck and Yanti and Jenny. Because Supervision is about everyday life – it’s about what is happening to ordinary people every day.
Patrick as Teck, sharing a moment with his helper, Yanti (played by Umi Kalthum Ismail)
What do you hope audiences will take home with them after watching Supervision?
Hopefully, our audiences will gain more insight into how the older generation feels – how they are left out of the conversation in so many ways. I once visited a senior citzens’ home for a week while doing research for a role. What touched me the most during that time was finding out that what the residents really want, they don’t get. The residents’ basic needs are all met; they have luxurious accommodation and good food. But nobody talks to them. The whole family will come and visit, but after a few minutes of saying ‘Hi Dad!’ or ‘Hi Grandpa!’, they spend the rest of the time just talking amongst themselves. The senior person is left on the sidelines.
You’ve had a long and prolific career in Malaysia. What’s it been like for you working in Singapore?
It’s been fun! I work a fair bit with Malaysian companies. Working with WILD RICE has been a joy – in my experience of working in the theatre, WILD RICE is one of the most professional and well-run companies I’ve ever worked with.
You’ve performed on screen as well as on stage. What appeals to you most about performing in the theatre?
It’s work, and I love to work! But I especially love the theatre because it’s more of an actor’s medium. In a film, you could bust your guts working, but you’ll never know what finally appears on screen. On stage, it’s all up to you once rehearsals are over and the show opens. Your director can’t save you. You have to do it!
And, of course, I also love the instant gratification of performing live on stage. You don’t have to wait for applause or laughter – you can feel the energy from the audience right away. No other medium gives you that. And that’s especially true for a theatre like WILD RICE’s new venue, which is a very energising space. The design of the theatre brings together and concentrates the energies of both actors and audiences. It’s a really good space to work.