Without Reason

Without Reason was staged 2 Aug to 4 Aug this year and I was involved doing surtitles so I had a chance to be part of the production. The actors were all unbelievably fun and the show ran well.

Without Reason was part of M1 Peer Pleasure, a youth theatre festival. The story surrounds the main characters Wei Yi and Hazmy. Wei Yi, played by Cheryl Tan, is a Chinese girl from a traditional Chinese family and Hazmy, played by Hafidz Abdul Rahman, is a Malay boy from a traditional Malay family. They fall in love and end up heartbroken when things don’t end well. I mean, that’s really scratching the surface.

Digging deeper, Sim Yan Ying’s play talks about the issues arising from interacial marriages, from misconceptions of the other race, of racism, ignorance and growing up in Singapore. These issues were sensitively dealt with but also bravely, I would say. Ignorance of the other’s religious practices and culture became starkly funny and awkward for the audience, as they recognise the potential disasters that could happen here if the characters on stage were not teenagers/acting. Wei Yi saying things like “You know, I actually love Malays, and their culture, and their architectures” to a total stranger definitely made the audience facepalm themselves so many times and I thought it was precisely Yan Ying’s craft in making this lighthearted yet serious that made this piece so wonderful for conversation and discussion.

Rooted in an easy to follow story, in contrast to perhaps bigger theatre companies who would choose to tackle this issue with a larger outlook, Yan Ying’s version was good for their targeted audience, who are students, such that they could just dwell on one issue and think of it.  Whether it succeeded in making students talk about it is, however, questionable, considering that the show had an Advisory 16 rating at the end that affected the turn up rate for schools.

Anyhows, I had fun with this team of talented actors, actresses, director and production team. They were really nice and sweet. It would be quite interesting to see it being restaged in the future (with an alternate ending maybe?).

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Girl in the White Sand box《莎莎》(Re-run) | Drama Box

I literally procrastinated writing this for an entire month. I am a sloth. (I literally tried writing this 5 separate times)

I first watched 莎莎 (sha sha) in 2012 when my school brought us to see the play. That also meant that it was amongst my first few plays I’ve ever watched in my entire life and my first chinese theatre show ever (or second). This time around, I went back to Dramabox to volunteer for this particular show on 21 May. This meant that 莎莎 has dramatically (chuckles at my own pun) affected my puny little secondary school life.

The story and direction for 莎莎 is amazing, and I was so excited and thrilled to see much of the original direction had stayed together with the director. The story surrounds a young school girl named Shasha (which is a pun on “sand”). She wakes up in a big white room containing nothing but sand and does not remember how she got here. A man with an eery mask comes into the room and introduces himself to her as the caretaker of this kingdom, where they keep everybody who had committed suicide in separate rooms. She tries to escape him, knowing that after registration with the caretaker, she would be stuck in this place forever. She picked up the keys he accidentally dropped and sought shelter from other rooms she unlocked. Every room she entered, however, presented different situations and different people who committed suicide. Amongst them were the self harm girl, the girl who hung herself and the man who swallowed sleeping pills. After talking to them about their motivations and after thoughts, Shasha unwillingly reveals that she thought of ending her life because it felt like nobody around her cared about her. She ran to the construction area near her house and dug and dug at the sand, unknowingly falling into it, burying herself. The three friends she just made told her to escape this place and helped her to stall for time, telling her that in this kingdom, everybody will have to relive their death every seven minutes when the alarm sounds, driving home the idea to the audience that suicide doesn’t just end all worries and problems once and for all. Shasha manages to leave this place and go back to the human world eventually, but no without the help of the audience who played an active part in counselling and guiding her on how to deal with the problems she faced before.

Ultimately, this play is aimed at teenage students who may face issues yet not know how to deal with them. It is to remind them that suicide is not the solution and they should reach out to their friends if they feel something is wrong. Watching it again brought back all the memories and emotions. As much as children/students don’t say it out, at the back of their minds, they are bound to feel like a disappointment or they will be let down by others. “Not wanting to exist” is going to be a persistent thought. What 莎莎 did was to remind people to be more kind, more attentive and to believe in better days.

Other than the story line (when I first watched it, the 7 minutes death routine really got to me, I was just fourteen okay), I really liked the use of lights, sounds and masks. It was minimalistic, using lights to segregate and create space on stage and masks to allow characters to don on different personas. However, one change I disliked was how when I first watched it years ago, only the main character 莎莎 got to leave the kingdom. This time around, 莎莎 and the three other characters got to leave. This version, as I explained to the production team, made suicide seem reversible as if the consequences are not forever. When 莎莎 left alone, it felt like a dream that she encountered and maybe all of these were not real. Perhaps she fell asleep at the construction site and imagined the afterlife. I read this new version as “the truth”, where these people do exist and they are redeemed. My friend and I both saw this as overly ideal.

Really excited I dragged myself out of my comfort zone and made an effort to do something with Dramabox. Will be helping out with The Lesson in July. I really like the message and values that Dramabox stand for (community spirit, joy of giving, speaking… chinese…. Haha) and I would definitely hang around to see what’s in store!

(Yay! I did it!)

Tango | Pangdemonium

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Tango was great! I watched it on 23 May with Yifeng and we both enjoyed it. I enjoyed it largely because of the generally competent cast with no weak link and also because of the vision of the scriptwriter, Joel Tan.

As usual, the set was arresting. I was delighted to be greeted with a giant set that engaged audience on the circle seats as well. The audience in the circle seats could see characters from our own eye level when the action rotates shifts from being on stage to being on the set. The space, I felt, was well utilised and divided for the three different settings despite sharing the same stage at the same time. I appreciated the use of multimedia to faciliate transitions and visualising the setting without the actual use of physical props.

Chemistry wise, I felt the couple played by Koh Boon Pin (Kenneth) and Emil Marwa (Liam) was not too bad. In particular, I really enjoyed Koh’s acting – as a partner, a father, a son and a friend. He came across convincingly as a gay man but also a strong man. Dylan Jenkins was adorable as the son, whom I thought displayed a commendable performance being at 13 years old. The other two characters I really enjoyed watching were Benjamin Chow’s take on Benmin and Razaini Mazai as Zul. In particular, I loved the final scene where Benmin tells Zul about the old man in the toilet and he starts sobbing while being on the phone with Zul.

Lim Kay Siu (Grandfather), Karen Tan (Elaine) and Lok Meng Chue(Poh Lin) were good but I felt I didn’t see anything new in their choice of characters. So it was also a little bit… boring to watch. Nothing surprised me.

I got lazy in finishing this review even though I’m supposed to be writing this for my own good. But here is another review that mirrors my thoughts! https://bakchormeeboy.com/2017/05/21/review-tango-by-pangdemonium/

Every Brilliant Thing | Bhumi Collective

I watched this on 21 April.

Every Brilliant Thing was written and first performed by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe. The story was told from the eyes of a child’s point of view whose mother was depressed and committed suicide thereafter. It follows the main character from a young age where he first struggled to understand his mother’s world to his adulthood with dysfunctional relationships because of his depression. This narrative shares with the audience, whom double up as a support group for the child/performer, the aftereffects of one’s suicide in a simple and clear cut manner, where the character advises anyone who thinks of doing it to “Don’t do it”.

What is interesting about this script is that it involved audience interaction. This was a risk that the character had to take because whoever he chose to help read out notes or play along as a character of the story had to be willing to play along. Audience got to play roles such as his dad, teacher, counsellor and girlfriend. Since the audience were chosen on the spot and are improvising, the character himself had to be quick on his toes, remain humorous and mediate the situation if it goes wrong. In this area, Andrew Marko did a great job holding the piece together while making everybody else feel like part of the story at all times.

This play is considerably different in its approach to theatre in Singapore, where the audience make up quite a large part of the story instead of the actors playing it out. With this spontaniety and difference in quality in mind, perhaps it is difficult to charge the audience an expensive entry ticket if it cannot be substantiated with reasons why. This also reminded me of Red Rabbit, White Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour, where the audience played out parts of the script. In terms of concept and depth, it is the latter that triumphs. Nevertheless, Every Brilliant Thing is a light and comfortable text to watch and sit through. More than a theatrical piece, it is almost a community play for the everyday folks.

Tropicana The Musical

“Welcome to the Tropicana-a-a!”

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I caught this on 18 April with my sister who was watching her first musical ever. I did not go find out what the show was about and thus was shocked at naked women dancing as a show starter. My sister seemed fine about it though haha.

I loved the costumes of the dancers, especially the pineapple one which I thought was really exotic and fun. In terms of the stories, the songs and singing, it was not really my cup of tea. It felt quite fragmented and sudden at times, where focus was shifted from people to people really quickly without much reason. If one thing was good from the whole play, it was probably the band. They were, the most consistent.

Although unrelated, the production merchandise looked really good and had good quality. I thought it was interesting to see people spend $70 on a laptop case and $50 on totebags.

I watched the play partially because Haresh Sharma wrote it, but did not feel the same compactness in the stories that his other pieces had. As such, I felt that the characters did not have much to explore or show other than the singing and dancing, which to me, may not be the ideal selling point for all musicals.

Normal | Checkpoint Theatre

I caught Normal on 14 April in the Drama Centre Black Box with my JC theatre friends and thought that the main actresses Claire Chung (Ashley) and Audrey Tiong (Daphne) were amazing.

The story is about two Normal Academic (NA) students in their final year of school. They were about to sit for their O Levels, but were not confident of doing well. Individually, the characters faced setbacks, isolation and loneliness. Together, they portrayed a group of students whom I believe were relatable for many of the NA students in the audience and perhaps anybody else who have friends or relatives in the education system.

Tiong’s character struck me the most, partially because I saw a resemblance of my younger sister in her. Innocent and kind, she is slow and uncertain of herself. Sometimes, others are also not sure how or what she is thinking of when she’s quiet. Often, the effort put in does not translate directly into grades and success. Tiong managed to execute her performance with a sincere rendering of a girl who fumbles with her words, who innocently say things that are hilarious without meaning to and to show the hurt that perhaps only she understands to the audience.

As for Chung, I liked to watch her because it felt like the character was made for her physique. She was pretty, yet believably boisterous and rowdy.

Other characters whom I liked to watch was Amanda Tee, who played the teacher Lynette in the play. She played the typical office lady of Singapore who will gossip and backstab whoever she needs to. I thought she did so very well!

Undeniably, the theatre veterans Julie Wee, Fanny Kee and Chio Suping were good so I do not have anything much to add on to that.

I have to say the set and blocking did not impress me, and the singing did not do a lot for me. I prefered to watch the parts where the two girls got to converse with each other and occasionally with Shi-an, who played Marianne, the school prefect.

All in all, my biggest takeaway from this production is really to see the power of theatre. This production was sold out for all shows despite having a long run. I was scanning through carousell to see if anybody wanted tickets since my friend was selling hers. It was then I saw the whole list of people asking for tickets because they wanted to bring their NA friend/they are from NA themselves. I realised on a usual basis, these people would not really catch a theatre play. Normal is special because it is about them. Almost carthartic, it gives hope for and sheds light on what these students think and face on their path to adulthood.

It was also refreshing to know that big shots of the education system and the government graced the show too, possibly due to its sensitivity and the upcoming restructuring of the system. Perhaps, theatre plays a significant role in our society?

Shakespeare | NAFA

I watched this solely because my friends were performing in it haha. Directed by Laura Hayes, NAFA Diploma in Theatre English Drama Year 2 performed 9 scenes of selected plays by Shakespeare. It was also quite interesting to compare this to LASALLE’s Midsummer. This was on 13 April.

The students performed As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, Richard II.

Personally, I enjoyed Midsummer a lot. Performed in their blackbox, it had a more intimate vibe as compared to LASALLE’s version in the SIA theatre. Also, it was much more physical, where there was running, jumping and kicking. The other plays were more dry. Another scene worth mentioning was Richard II where Rino Junior John executed a solid performance (for a student) of the king himself in jail.

Other students whom I personally enjoyed watching was Megan Soh playing Isabella in Measure for Measure, Emilbiany Intong in Midsummer and Kevin Woo in As you like it.

Hope | Teater Ekamatra

When I first told Shangbin about this blog, he commented on the effort needed to sustain it. At first, it was okay but now, boy is it tedious. I caught this play at the Esplanade studios on 7 April. Hope was originally written by Haresh Sharma about a chinese family facing a myraid of problems. There was a paralysed friend of a journalist and a good-for-nothing husband with a wife and child. Teater Ekamatra, however, decided to adapt this play into a Malay context which worked really well for me.

With the complexities and nuances of the Malay culture which I myself am not familiar with, there was much to learn and see throughout the course of the play. The chemistry between Fir Rahman and Hirzi Zulkiflie was really good. I really enjoyed watching Rahman act as the paralysed man, who had the funny lines and almost heartwrenching story. I also enjoyed watching Zulkiflie, largely because he’s good looking. Haha. Also, his character took on a happy-go-lucky, silly persona which I thought made the pairing with Rahman more poignant, as Rahman’s character was more thoughtful and matured.

I first watched Sani perform at Best of, and I really liked his performance then. This time around I was much less captivated, perhaps because there were other characters and stories happening rather than his one personal story. Nevertheless, Sani’s efforts and professionalism in his craft can be seen as he reenacted the part where the loansharks confronted him. He had to pour (fake) liquor all over himself and smash cake into his own face, then continue to act the rest of the show while remaining in the same clothes. (Of course, kudos to the stage manager for cleaning the mess up every night).

Siti Hajar’s rendering of her character as the mother, I thought was sometimes distant and fragmented. I am not too sure was it her acting or the script. Nevertheless, I could feel her character’s desperation at her plight.

Then, there was Zakiah, who is the director’s daughter. She had no lines in the play but I would say, to be in a 1.5hours play for proper audience at such a young age is commendable.

Other than the acting, I really liked the use of music done by Bani Haykal because it really helped to set the mood of the play. I also liked the use of the mud sculptures that created a visual imaginary world with the multimedia as the backdrop.

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With/out | Conceptualised by Loo Zihan

This version of the play was based on Completely With/Out Character, devised by Paddy Chew and staged in 1999. In collaboration with The Necessary Stage, Loo restaged it again this year after his first attempt in 2015 at the M1 Fringe Festival.

I first heard about Loo Zihan when I was back in secondary school when we discussed arts censorship and arts funding, we always end up talking about Josef Tan’s work. This work of Josef’s involved him snipping his pubic hair in front of a live audience that directly led to the ban in doing performance art in 1994. This work was a protest of the media’s coverage of gay issues, titled Brother Cane. So Zihan restaged this in 2012.

Back to With/out, which I caught the previous night starring Janice Koh, I was surprised by the last-minute request to arrive half an hour early so the team can give out headphones to us for the show. Wearing the headphones, we entered the studio a little bit disorientated because there were three giant screens in the centre of the space and long blocks for seats at the sides. Everybody went for the seats except Shangbin who chose to be badass (kidding).

The headphones had three different channels; one to focus on Paddy’s version of the play being screened on the first screen, one to focus on Janice’s rendering of the script while she acts it out in real life, and the last is a fusion of both. I was on the last channel because I did not figure out how to toggle the channels, but even if I knew I would still probably be on the third channel. Zihan mentioned that the reason why he opted for this segmentation of audio was because in the 2015 version he had two rooms to do two versions concurrently but he couldn’t find a good space this year hence he went for an alternative choice. But I was painfully distracted, it really tested my skills of focus.

Zihan hoped that by screening both at the same time, the audience would have the freedom to toggle their channels and pay attention to whatever they wished. Shangbin and I agreed that we wanted to pay attention to both so it was quite unfair and unkind trying to split our head into twos to focus on both. I ended up zoning out on Janice because Paddy’s version was so engaging. I’m personally not into sobby stuff, which was the characterisation Janice decided to go with for the night. Paddy, however, was a classic and such a powerful character to watch. After all, to quote, it was a “docu-drama” featuring his real life, his aspirations, fears and struggles. But I later tried to balance both because I paid money to watch Janice in real life, not a screening of an old staging.

I was truthfully, unable to appreciate Janice’s rendering because everybody was crowding around her, around me, and the theatre experience was almost detached and emotionless when her character was “absorbed by other people” before it even reached me. Instead of having everyone sitting in their seats, some chose to stand around her, some chose to sit, some did not even pay attention to her at all, focusing on Paddy.  It was on hindsight and upon her sharing that she was performing in silence while we all had the headphones, she had to discipline herself to carry through her actions despite the lack of audience feedback and other distractions such as shuffling of feets and others laughing at Paddy while she does a sad sobby part. She is definitely a very strong actress and I would not deny her efforts any bit.

On the issue of HIV and AIDS, Janice ended off with a memorial for Paddy by inviting the audience to light a candle for Paddy. As I watched people waddle to the table to light their candle, I ended up being cynical and questioned their intentions as they did so. Lighting a candle in remembrance for Paddy is one thing, doing something in thought of him is another thing. To light a candle today because it was part of a play, because it seemed fun, because you feel like you are part of the group who watched and to forget about Paddy’s fight and mission to reduce the stigma of AIDS, to not do your part in sharing Paddy’s vision and attitude towards life, I think this action is nothing more than empty.

I was very honoured to have a chance to watch Paddy in his autobiographical play albeit from a screening because it really felt like he was there and he was sharing his message. Sometimes, people make bad decisions out of goodness. Sometimes, the people who say they care, don’t, and those who do, will make their efforts felt. Sometimes, feeling bitter and angry about other’s privileges while you are stripped of your own is not justified. Sometimes, life is short and you have a choice to make a difference in one person’s life, many people’s life or none at all. Most importantly, to treasure what we have each day and be thankful in actions and words before it is too late.

Fundamentally Happy | Nine Years Theatre

Watched Fundamentally Happy yesterday and hmmm…. there were things I liked and things that I did not like. 

For one, Clarence and I were excited to see how the story unfolds since this topic of paedophilia is a touchy one. It was only watching the show that I found out it involved rape and molestation. This definitely made it a really difficult play to put across since there has to be awareness of boundaries that may be touchy. 

The first thing that catches your eye (my eye) is the stage. BRILLIANCE!! It was so beautiful and realistic. It reminded me of Pangdemonium’s set for Falling. Antique sofas, antique curtains and even the design for the wall/backdrop was considered. My favourite was definitely the “rain”, which I assume they used some sort of fish tank kind of method to simulate rain outside the “windows”. We could see through the windows and it was “raining” outside, with the intensity changing with the scenes. This is probably the first play I watched with the use of (natural) sound being so poignant and integrated into the rest of the play. The raindrops at one point created a slow drip drip drip soundscape which added onto the tension created and I just loved that moment. 

On hindsight, the use of the radio in my own personal opinion was bad. I have no idea what it was meant to do for the audience and it just made everything more fragmented.

It was really aesthetically pleasing with an almost functioning living room on stage. Lights and radio sounds could be controlled from both the stage and the control room, which I thought was helped to keep the acting flexible and real.

Acting wise… I would say that the actors took quite a long time to settle down proper into their characters though. Both stumbled over their lines a little bit and the chemistry was weird. Then everything else became weird (perhaps its how the script is written) when things later did not make logical sense and emotionally  it did not match up also, like how Habiba forgives then don’t forgive then Eric forgives and uncle is caught and Habiba’s leaving… There were so many knots tied and left untied, it was quite confusing and unconvincing somewhat at the end of it all. But I wouldn’t disregard both the actors’ efforts to do this play in Chinese and sometimes Malay/Cantonese. There were parts that I could believe Timothy Wan was really hurting, and I liked how Lok Meng Chue worked her laughter into her character to show openness and sometimes to hide her pain. But maybe when we put it all together, some things don’t click while some clicked only after a bit. It was quite obvious also that they were sometimes struggling to get the words right and staging even before putting in their emotions. 

Otherwise, this topic I would say is very fresh in the scene for now, where we kind of want to just stick to happy musicals and feel good shows. It plants an uncomfortable seed to think about as we move along.