For instance, we went from the front lawn to the mansion's hall, then to the back lawn before returning indoors and proceeding up the main staircase to the landing and the balcony. Down a side staircase we went before stopping by a porch, then through the dining room and ending up at the main hall.
No wonder we were forewarned that with all the walking involved, we should be wearing comfortable walking shoes.
So there I was on Wednesday evening, meeting up with several of my old school chums who had also come to see the play. Actually for the George Town Festival, 2 Houses had been slated for a four-night performance only on the 28th to the 31st of August, but tickets had sold out very early despite its RM150 price tag. Through some wonderful arrangement, the producers managed to give two special matinee performances on the 26th and 27th. I heard some people referring to them as full-dress rehearsals. Whether this was true or not, I don't know and not particularly interested to know, but it sure gave the production team and the cast an opportunity to iron out any last-minute hiccups. Anyway, together with these friends, we managed to pick up our tickets for the 27th August show.
This date turned out to be a very good choice for us because the weather was fabulous and cool. It had been raining almost ceaselessly the day before and in fact, even on Wednesday itself, it was raining for much of the morning. But the rain had stopped by afternoon and the weather held. The grounds at Soonstead were damp and a little undulating but it didn't cause much problem at all. And because it wasn't raining, we had the benefit to enjoy the outdoors live band. The audience was milling around in the front lawn, drinking and eating finger food, and basically waiting for the play to begin.
Unfortunately, "Fortress Penang" was only in name. With the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse sunk in the afternoon of 10 Dec 1941, there was to be no sea cover nor air cover for the northernmost part of the Straits Settlements. The land resistance was soon to be routed.
But there was to be no British saviour. The local population, rich and poor, would be left to their own devices as the Japanese army over-ran Penang. For the Heah family, there was a grudging offer of a safe passage for only one person in their family and even then, as a cabin boy who would be required to work his way on board the ship. The senior Heah's only son turned down the offer, balking at the idea of scrubbing floors and the like. His future wife, whom the Heah family looked down like second-class relatives, offered a solution: her long-suffering brother would go and help safeguard all the Heah family assets and title deeds.
There was new tension at the Heah Gate Mansion. The senior Heah was facing accusations from the British authorities of being a Japanese sympathiser during the Occupation. But worse, one of their man-servants who had gone off to join the fight against the vanquished Japanese was suspected to have returned to the island and could be coming back to the mansion. But definitely back on home soil was the junior Heah's brother-in-law who was now a successful lawyer. In the rising tension as all the parties came back together for a final confrontation with one another and the British authorities, and the ensuing confusion that followed, two shots rang out and with that, the show soon ended.