Seashore Yuánfèn 海缘 is the Fleeting Ray of Sunshine You Needed in 2020
Review by Lim Jack Kin

As last year and all of its terrible unkindness came to a close, I realised that I was tired of the apocalypse. Tired of cynical sci-fi TV and cash-grab blockbuster superhero movies, tired of serious Literary-with-a-capital-L works steeped in suburban ennui, tired of pulpy fiction anthologies whose every story inexplicably features some poor woman getting murdered to motivate a man. Moving forward, I find myself craving a sense of sincerity, of earnestness, of hope in other people.

Enter Seashore Yuánfèn, a musical theatre podcast demo released on Soundcloud in December by Malaysian theatre director Zhui Ning Chang and British podcast producer Nemo Martin. At 7 minutes long, the demo is a pilot project that the artists hope will turn into a full-fledged production. It’s still worth a listen; Zhui Ning and Nemo are accomplished writers and they bring that prowess to bear on this charming, optimistic, and ultimately cathartic performance.

Seashore Yuánfèn (a word that roughly translates to ‘fateful coincidence’) revolves around Michelin Star chef Lakshmi, played by Sushma Saha, and local town doctor Jingya, played by Claire-Marie Hall. Meeting each other by the seaside of their Cornish village, Lakshmi and Jingya connect over their shared experiences; namely, both of their families constantly pressure them to find romantic partners. Plotting to ease that pressure, they hatch a plan to pretend to date each other, providing their parents with a convenient distraction. It’s an incredibly tropey, almost fan-fiction-esque premise, and it’s absolutely sublime.

The husky-voiced, roguish Lakshmi and melodious, prim Jingya contrast each other beautifully, from their personalities—Lakshmi is theatrical and showy, while Jingya is more reserved and cautious—to their accents. On an audio-only medium, without the benefit of costumes, blocking, or indeed any visual indicators, this contrast becomes a lot more important. As a listener, you never have trouble figuring out who is speaking or singing, and Seashore Yuánfèn’s creators know this, confidently weaving in a snappy back-and-forth between the characters as they flirt and plot and trade jabs. The songs—created by Seashore Yuánfèn’s composer, recording engineer, and music producer Nimrita Kaur—are balladic, with a thorough, piano-heavy ensembl. There aren’t any choruses, so Saha and Hall’s nonstop delivery of fun, unique lines makes their performance Seashore Yuánfèn’s biggest highlight.

That performance leaps from the structure provided by a tight, focused script and well-written dialogue. Exposition is kept bare, just enough so that you get a sense of Lakshmi and Jingya’s professional and cultural backgrounds, and presented in a way that makes perfect sense—the two characters are meeting properly for the first time, and spend the episode sizing each other up, volunteering personal details and recalling each other’s reputations. The rest of the podcast’s narratives, conflicts, and themes are similarly delivered with efficient clarity, with large dramatic questions raised in the span of a few seconds.

Out of all of its technical merits, however, perhaps my favourite thing about Seashore Yuánfèn is encapsulated in a few short lines: As our leads decide to ‘fake-date’, the music suddenly stops and Jingya asks “Wait. Your parents aren’t…?”

“Homophobic?” Lakshmi cuts in. “No, they’re fine. Yours?”

“No,” Jingya responds. “It’s fine!”

At that point, the music picks up again and the two continue their song. It’s a small exchange, one that feels like a subversive acknowledgement of the ongoing trend of artistic work about LGBTQ+ people often being centered around visceral depictions of their trauma, to the exclusion of other narratives and with a regularity that seems to confine LGBTQ+ couples in fiction to unhappiness. These depictions have the potential to be harmful when disconnected from the creative control of LGBTQ+ voices, and they inherently cater to straight audiences who can consume the suffering of LGBTQ+ people as ‘art’ without having to relive it as a painful experience.

With a 7-second conversation, then, Seashore Yuánfèn addresses and overturns that concern, reclaiming the narrative and signalling to audiences that this rom-com will be celebratory and exuberant. “Your queerness doesn’t have to be a trauma-related thing,” says Martin. “For a lot of us, it is [...] and a lot of media that deals with that is very important, but we also need a new tide of stuff that isn’t trauma-related, so that young people can grow up without believing that to be queer, you have to have trauma.” Martin and Chang (the latter of whom describes “queer hopepunk action” as one of the topics her work engages in) are certainly contributing to that tide, allowing us to revel in the unapologetic existence of Seashore Yuánfèn’s leads and be part of a world that rejoices in their love.

All in all, this Seashore Yuánfèn demo is a slice of art that manages to pack compelling characters, a deep thematic discussion, and even a clever narrative twist into its 7-minute runtime. Hopefully, much more is yet to come; its creators are currently looking for grant funding to fund a full production, which I hope comes out soon. In the meantime, there are only so many Steven Universe reruns I can watch to restore my faith in humanity.

The Seashore Yuánfèn demo track is available on Soundcloud

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Lim Jack Kin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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