Time Out Singapore: ‘Public Enemy’ Review

15 Apr 2015: Wild Rice opens its 15th anniversary season with a play that challenges the inherent problem of society, but Gwen Pew is left disappointed by this watered-down adaptation of a great classic

★★★☆☆

Photo: Wild Rice / Albert Lim KS

Photo: Wild Rice / Albert Lim KS

Staged during our nation’s golden jubilee and ahead of our next general election, Wild Rice’s take on Public Enemy – first written by Henrik Ibsen over a century ago, adapted by David Harrower in 2013 and now relocated to a fictionalised Singapore – promises to get us talking about difficult things. We went into the theatre ready to be confronted by a series of uncomfortable truths about a society bound by a selfish majority, and yet, despite this being a visually stunning production, we’re not convinced that its ambitious goal was achieved.

The plot revolves around Dr Thomas Chee (Ivan Heng), the medical director of the country’s well-renowned natural spas, who is hell-bent on exposing the toxic state of its waters. While he has his initial supporters, including members of the press and the business community, he soon gets tangled in a web of social, governmental and personal interests. Ultimately, he is thrown under the bus by a political system headed by his influential brother, the mayor Peter Chee (Lim Kay Siu).

The point of Ibsen’s iconic work is to critique the perils of a complacent society, whose inability to think for itself allows those in power to manipulate situations and sentiments in order to satisfy their own agenda. But the production doesn’t get this across, as Thomas quickly loses sight of his noble goal of bringing the truth to light once the tides and ‘solid majority’ turn against him. He declares that he loves his country in his rambling speech at the climax of the play – which was hurled at the audience with the house lights turned on – but he never shows that love in action. He declares that he is dedicated to his family, but he’s willing to put them all in danger because of his own ego. He declares that he is after the truth – but we’re not even sure whether the findings in the report are accurate. (We’re reminded by Peter that Thomas didn’t try to get a second opinion on them.) And when he declares at the end that he’s remaining in town after being branded a public enemy, he’s no longer fighting for the truth – he is, instead, fighting against his brother and the people who don’t agree with his views.

There are indeed many powerful themes and issues that the production could play with – from sibling rivalry and the responsibility of the media to a man’s duty to himself, his family and his nation – and while all of them are lightly touched upon, they are never explored to their full extent. The characters are also introduced without context, which makes it difficult for us to empathise with them. But most importantly, it’s almost impossible to root for the feeble and highly self-destructive protagonist, even though he is portrayed as a hero right until the final scene. So while we’re troubled by the fact that the nation is wrought by political and social back-scratching, we’re left at a loss about the play’s central message. The combination of these elements results in a piece that feels clumsy, convoluted, and diluted.

That said, as a theatrical performance, it’s aesthetically very attractive. Wong Chee Wai’s sleek, grey set, when paired with Lai Chan’s impeccable outfits and the cinematic lighting and sound effects, provides a very slick backdrop for the story. The cast is also composed of able actors: Heng channels the rash, frumpy and impassionate doctor compellingly; Serene Chen supports him well as his poor, loyal wife, Katherine; while Ghafir Akbar makes for a suitably slimy and fickle editor of the local newspaper. The rest of his family and acquaintances are likewise competently played, but Lim deserves special mention for filling the stage with his larger-than-life presence as the mayor, even when he’s merely glowering silently in the corner.

Overall, this is a performance that unfortunately has more style than substance. The fantastic set and good acting make for two straight hours of decent entertainment, but strip the visual appeal away and what we’re left with is a weak adapted script that never quite delivers the sting that it threatened to.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ Review

Gwen Pew had bags of fun at Pangdemonium’s first play of the year, where she got to go on a six-week journey – condensed into 90 minutes – with a cast of colourful characters at a community centre acting class

★★★★☆

Circle Mirror Transformation

Photo: Crispian Chan

 

6 Feb 2015: The last time we saw a Pangdemonium production, it was one that revolved around a paedophile-murderer. But as powerful a piece of theatre as Frozen was, we’re also grateful to be able to sit back and let the laughter ripple through our bellies at their current show, American playwright Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation. It is, of course, a very different kind of play – nobody dies, for starters – but the performance is no less impressive, and beautifully demonstrates just how versatile the company is.

Here, we’re taken to an acting class at a community centre in Vermont, America, led by a kind, hippie lady called Marty (Neo Swee Lin). We join her four students as they embark on a six-week course, and get to know them as they get to know each other: the recently divorced carpenter Schultz (Adrian Pang), recently single actress Theresa (Nikki Muller), moody high schooler Lauren (Selma Alkaff), and Marty’s happy-go-lucky husband, James (Daniel Jenkins). Plenty of hilarity ensues as they start playing acting games like conveying meaning using only varying tones of one word, or reconstructing someone’s childhood bedroom by taking on the role of furniture and trees. In between the laughs, however, the cracks in each of their lives start to show through.

That helps to breathe a third dimensional backstory into the characters, and the cast is more than capable to take them on. All five of them embodied their roles with such ease and naturalness that it almost feels like the play was written specifically for these actors. From the awkward shyness they felt during the first week of class to the unspoken bond that had formed between them by the sixth week, they brought the whole spectrum of emotions to life. Pang, as usual, has his comedic timing down pat, while Muller encapsulates the confident woman with deep trust issues brilliantly. The old-couple chemistry between Neo and Jenkins is great to watch, and we could hardly tell that it’s Alkaff professional stage debut with her stellar performance as the emo, but ultimately lovely, Lauren.

The only problem we have with it is that we’re left wishing that the script had given the actors more to work with. By the end, we’re just getting to understand the weight of their baggage – all of them are complicated, and some hint at very dark things indeed – but they’re never explained fully enough to really make an impact, or a point. We’re unsure what the take away is after all the revelation, which is a shame as the characters are so fascinating and intricately developed. Yes, we appreciate the open ending, but we would have loved for the plot to let us delve deeper into the characters’ personal worlds – worlds that the cast clearly invested a lot of time in fleshing out during rehearsal.

Acting aside, Wong Chee Wai’s simple set is functional, but it’s strongest when combined with James Tan’s lighting and Brian Gothong Tan’s multimedia design in the final scene. We also never get to find out much about the American life outside the acting class, and Pangdemonium wisely didn’t make an attempt to localise it – they never do – but perhaps that’s not the point of the play, because ultimately it’s more about what it means to be human, regardless of where you are. So go, and laugh, and appreciate the dialogue and the sheer prowess of the actors. The show runs on for an hour and a half and there’s no intermission, but don’t worry, you’ll be in very good company.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Pigeons’ Review

Buds Theatre’s latest production hopes to bring the issue of race to the foreground, but while it’s a good watch, Gwen Pew wishes that certain aspects were better executed

★★★☆☆

Pigeons

30 Jan 2015: Buds Theatre had good intentions when they decided to stage Suhayla El-Bushra’s play, Pigeons, which first made its debut at London’s Royal Court two years ago. The whole thing is set in the streets and homes of a rather grubby English city, but its anti-racism message is a universal one. Indeed, in Singapore, it’s true that despite the government’s emphasis on racial harmony, there are still a lot of issues relating to race that don’t often get discussed. So we applaud them for attempting to deal with them head on.

The overall execution of the hour-long play is good. The lighting is suitably moody, the accent used by the protagonists is believable, and the chemistry between the cast is palpable. Centred on the friendship between two boys – Ashley (Ebi Shankara) and Amir (Khairul) – the play comprises a series of montages for the audience to piece together their relationship. There’s the time when the two boys stole a car, crashed it while they’re deliriously high and started dancing and laughing in the middle of the street; there’s the time when Ashley was happily played chess with Amir’s father (Jamil); there’s the time when Amir got together with the ‘town bike’, Leah (Rebecca Lee), and Ashley partially forced her to pleasure him when Amir was out, which led to a rift between the boys. Following the fall out, Ashley was approached by the sinister Carl (Lian Sutton), who recruited the young man to join his anti-Muslim gang. Things, of course, get ugly.

We enjoyed the production, but there are a couple of pretty major flaws. Firstly, while we’re all for racial equality when it comes to casting, it’s clear that the playwright had meant for Ashley’s and Carl’s characters to be white. In this case, the former is played by an Indian actor, while the latter is played by a Eurasian. They’re great actors, and conveyed their parts convincingly, but the multicultural cast means that the visual impact of racism at its worst was somewhat diminished. Amir no longer looked like the outsider, and all the talk of immigrants being the dirty, ever-present pigeons of society becomes a bit strange. Of course, we can say that this underlies the fact that ultimately, we’re all the same, and therefore we shouldn’t be racist – but if that’s what they were trying to say, then that message wasn’t very clearly sent across either.

Secondly, while the ending shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it’s unfortunately confusingly executed here. Without spoiling it for those of you who have yet to watch it, there aren’t any clear visible cues to show exactly what happened. There was a climax, but no denouement. And while we’ve seen performances where the decision to not have a curtain call made sense, this isn’t one of them. When the lights abruptly came on, nobody bowed, and nobody clapped. We were simply told to ‘exit the theatre this way for our own safety’, and no one was quite sure whether that was part of the performance, or the signal for the end of the play. It wasn’t until the staff handed out feedback forms outside the door – and we double-checked with them that this was not the intermission – that we headed home, somewhat bewildered.

Ultimately, this is an ambitious choice of a play that could have used a stronger direction from Claire Devine in order to bring out its full impact and implications. That said, the dialogue is witty, the script is heartfelt, and the actors are great to watch. We just wish that there were more meat for us to sink our teeth into.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Cats’ Review

The famous meow-sical may no longer be the most cutting-edge of shows, but the production that’s currently in town is nonetheless a valiant effort, says Gwen Pew

★★★☆☆

Cats

16 Jan 2015: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline-themed musical ran for 18 and 21 years on Broadway and in the West End respectively. If the show were a child, it technically reached legal drinking age on both sides of the Atlantic. Based on a collection of cleverly written poems by the great TS Eliot called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the musical is set on the night of the ‘Jellicle Ball’, where the tribe of cats – known as the Jellicles – assembles and sees which one of them gets chosen to be reborn into a new life. It’s easy to see why it was so critically acclaimed in the 1980s – the staging is imaginative, the songs are fun and, in the age before the internet, it’s an excellent way for people to come together and express their love for cats.

But in the 21st century, when our attention span has been shortened to 140 characters and we’re constantly bombarded with fresh information, the three-hour show – which sees little action and doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of – now seems outdated. Indeed, Lloyd Webber has already revamped it and the revival just opened in the West End last month.

If you’d like to see the original version, however, this is probably your last chance: we heard that the production that’s currently showing at MasterCard Theatres – a joint venture between BASE Entertainment and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions with Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group – may well be its last world tour.

And all in all, this is a pretty good rendition of the classic. The set – a junkyard that oozes a raffish charm thanks to the strings of fairy lights threaded from stage to stalls – is worthy of any stage in London or New York. The costumes and make-up, too, are breathtakingly flamboyant.

But of course, this is ultimately about cats, and the cats are great on the whole. This is especially the case for the most famous of them, including the charismatic bad boy Rum Tum Tugger (Earl Gregory), the magical Mr Mistoffelees (Christopher Favaloro) – who performed a brilliant choreography for his song – and Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (Jarryd Nurden). The star of the show is definitely Grizabella (Erin Cornell), whose performance of ‘Memory’ fully lived up to our high expectations, her voice filling up the entire auditorium with piercing emotions. They are well-matched by the rest of the cast, too.

There are some aspects that could be stronger, however. The singing very often gets drowned out by the live band, which is a shame as the poetry of the lyrics is lost to those who are unfamiliar with them; the parts where all the cats sing or talk simultaneously are especially difficult for the audience to catch. Certain scenes could also have been explained more clearly: it’s not immediately obvious, for instance, that the characters onstage were cockroaches and dogs in ‘The Old Gumbie Cat’ and ‘The Awful Battle Of The Pekes And The Pollicles’ respectively. And the appearance of the fearful criminal cat, Macavity, is a bit of an anticlimax, as it took the crowd a while to realise that he made his entrance in the box seats, and his time onstage was brief.

Still, it’s worth a watch if you’re a musicals fan – or a cat lover – who has had Cats on your theatrical bucket list for far too long. By the end of the show, you may not ‘understand what happiness is’, as Grizabella sings, but a new show has begun, and you might as well enjoy the memory while you can.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Mamma Mia!’ Review

It’s been ten years since the international touring production of Mamma Mia was last in Singapore, but the feel-good musical has lost none of its sunny sparkles as it returns this month, say Gwen Pew.

Mamma Mia

23 Nov 2014: If you’re looking for a place to escape from the rainy days we’ve been getting lately, look no further than the Grand Theatre at Marina Bay Sands – it’s dry, cool and eternally summer in the production of Mamma Mia that’s currently running there. Ten years after its last performance here, the multi-award-winning musical has lost none of its sparkles, and still delighting the crowd with an infectious playlist of Abba songs and feel-good vibes.

The international tour features a cast from the UK, and they certainly do not disappoint. Just in case you need a recap, the story is set on an idyllic Greek island, where 21-year-old Sophie (Niamh Perry) finds out the names of the three men who could be her father after sneakily reading her mother, Donna’s (Sara Poyzer), diary, and invites all of them to her upcoming wedding. Chaos ensues, but of course, love prevails.

The songs are an absolute treat. Poyzer didn’t quite make some of the high notes during the performance we attended, but that could easily be forgiven in the grand scheme of things, as the performance is overall top notch. The star of the show is no doubt Perry, who captures Sophie’s youth and heart with boundless energy and a big, bright voice, but she is well supported by the rest of the troupe: the big group numbers are a sight to behold, and show just how strong the chemistry between everyone is. It all culminates nicely in Sophie’s hen party, which gets heated up with an electrifying performance of ‘Voulez-Vous’, complete with blasts of colourful flashing lights.

The set is pretty much identical to the production in London’s West End, and just as effective and elegant, yet never over the top. The 1970s platform heels and big-sleeved, neon-coloured outfits donned by Donna and her girl band The Dynamos – composed of the hilarious duo Rosie (Sue Devaney) and Tanya (Geraldine Fitzgerald) – are nothing short of fabulous. And by all means, bring the kids, but another thing we love about this production is that it makes plenty of cheeky references to something a bit more grown up – the ‘dot dot dots’, as Donna puts it in her diary. It keeps everyone from the little ones to the young at heart entertained.

By the time the cast performed their final renditions of ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Waterloo’, a big chunk of the house was up on their feet, dancing and singing along, which is never a bad sign. And so, if it’s an afternoon or evening of light-hearted fun that you’re after, then go ahead and lay all your love on this show, and bring out the dancing queen (or king) in you.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Chorus; Oedipus’ Review

Telling a well-known Greek tragedy to a predominantly English-speaking audience in Korean is no easy task, but Seoul-based theatre company Juk-Dal pulls it off with flying colours, as Gwen Pew discovers.

The Chorus Oedipus

23 Aug 2014: Telling a Greek tragedy to a predominantly English-speaking audience in Korean was never meant to be an easy task, but it was one that Seoul-based company Juk-Dal nonetheless took on bravely. And we’re happy to say that their meticulously planned gamble paid off.

Stripping everything back to basics, there is absolutely no untrimmed fat in their production of the 2,500-year-old tale. The story unfolds so simply and so elegantly, and yet even though we all know that King Oedipus was destined to kill his own father and have children with his own mother, the full weight of the tragedy is not lost on us during the climatic scene when he discovers the truth.

The set is minimalistic, but very clever. The edge of the stage is sealed off, and the audience is seated onstage along two perpendicular sides of the space. A slightly raised circular wooden platform sits in the middle with unlit globes of lightbulbs dangling sporadically above it and three upright pianos placed at one end, right next to a series of steps filled with wooden chairs that are largely occupied by the ensemble. Likewise, costumes are kept simple: everyone, regardless of whether they’re king or queen or peasant, is dressed in loose white robes. As a result of all this, we are encouraged to focus on the captivating expressions on the actors’ faces and their powerful voices instead.

The musical format also works surprisingly well and adds to the story by emphasising emotions of hope, frustration, fear or anger, while the positioning of the pianos – a fourth one, a grand, actually sits behind a door just offstage – gives surround sound a literal meaning. We can’t help but be drawn into the chaos that wrecks the great city of Thebes.

But of course, the best thing about the show is the cast. Under the brilliant direction of Jae-Hyung Seo, they are completely in their element. Hae Soo Park deserves special mention as the tormented Oedipus, and fully embodies the presence and spirit of the tragic hero; he is well supported by Kang Hee Yim and Kap Seon Lee as Queen Jocasta and his brother-in-law Creon respectively. The rest of the chorus are far from idle, too, and take their roles as seriously as their bodies physically allow them to.

By keeping things sharp and simple, the cast is able to achieve their most important goal: to tell a captivating story well. With that mission accomplished, everything else fell into place, and a beautiful piece of theatre worthy of the ten-minute standing ovation it received is born.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Rock of Ages’ Review

Despite a brilliant band, some great actors and all its good intentions, Gwen Pew can’t help but feel that Rock of Ages falls somewhat short of its lofty rock ‘n’ roll aspirations.

Rock of Ages

22 Aug 2014: It was supposed to be a great night out. The stage was already set when we walked into the theatre, and a soundtrack was blasting ’80s rock ‘n’ roll to get us in the mood. But then, as we inched closer to the starting time, it soon became apparent that the handful of us there – we barely filled up a quarter of the 1,600-seater space – were all that’s going to show up. Granted, it was a Tuesday evening, and Resorts World Theatre is technically speaking off the mainland so perhaps it’s a bit inconvenient to get to, but still.

The small turn out would have been fine if it were a cosy sort of show, but Rock of Ages isn’t one of those. To their credit, the band – which remains onstage throughout the entire performance – really did try their best to fill out the echoey space, but as a result of that (and the fact that sound guys didn’t adjust their levels properly), they also ended up drowning out most of the singing.

The main plot follows a small town Kansan girl called Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) who moves to Los Angeles to become an actress, and meets a rockstar-wannabe, Drew (Dominique Scott), at a bar called The Bourbon Room on the famously colourful Sunset Strip. The two instantly fall in love, but of course, life and miscommunication get in the way of them being together for most of the show. There is definitely chemistry between the pair, but Mullen tries a tad too hard at times, while Scott could have stood out a lot more – he has a great singing voice, but we only get glimpses of his potential at certain points. Joshua Hobbs plays the role of the sleazy rockstar Stacee Jaxx brilliantly, and Kadejah Onè has a booming voice as The Venus Club’s Mama Justice. But without a doubt the biggest star of the show is Justin Colombo as the nunchucks-wielding Lonny, The Bourbon Room’s second in charge, and the narrator. Donning a variety of hilarious t-shirts – including one that says ‘Hooray for Boobies’ – he has perfected the subtle art of comedy, and breaks the fourth wall ever so naturally.

And if the story itself is somewhat flimsy, the choreography made up for it: and the dancers are focussed, synchronised – and hot. Coupled with a relatively simple but visually stunning set and atmospheric lighting, they really did bring out the character of The Strip.

The final song that the show concluded with is Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, and we have hope that maybe it was just a bad night: after all, like a rock concert, Rock of Ages is a musical that requires a full house to shine. With the right crowd and some of the technical creases ironed out, we suspect that it can be great, but while there wasn’t anything detrimentally wrong with it, the performance that we caught was unfortunately by and large uninspiring.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Mystery Magnet’ Review

The second show to open as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) brings plenty of colour, confusion and chuckles, says Gwen Pew as she ventures into the wonderful world of Mystery Magnet.

Mystery Magnet

15 Aug 2014: If you go into the show expecting a logical plot, you will no doubt leave with a crushing sense of disappointment. But if you go with a wide open mind, we promise you’ll have a lot of fun. Created by Miet Warlop and performed with Belgian theatre company Campo, Mystery Magnet is one of the most bizarre productions we’ve seen in Singapore for a while. Combining performance with visual art and sound, the scenes that flourished before us got increasingly messy, violent, but also deliciously provocative as the show went on.

There’s just one man in the beginning, lying on the floor wearing a fat suit hidden beneath a dress shirt and pants, as a monotonous thumps of heartbeats pound the air. Once he rolls over and eventually finds his way up, things began to get weirder, and weirder, and weirder still. Over the next 45 minutes, the images we witnessed include people disguised as pants, laughing and taunting the fat man; someone with a brightly-coloured, oversized mop as her head stapling another one of her fellow creatures to the on the giant white canvas that sits at the centre of the stage, before throwing up rainbows of paint; and a butt-naked man wobbling on a pair of heels and a horse tail as a woman rides him around the stage.

At one point, a remote-controlled shark balloon floats through a hole in the canvas and comes up above the audience’s heads, drawing laughs and screams; at another point, hundreds of colourful darts are thrown from behind the canvas to land randomly – and lethally – across the floor. As we sat there engulfed in pink, yellow, green and purple smoke in one scene, we couldn’t help but feel like we were living in someone’s – perhaps the fat man’s – drug-induced dream.

As many have pointed out in the past, there are plenty of references to the art world – the canvas wall ends up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting, the shark is a potential nod to Damien Hirst, and the final choir of inflatable, gaping white figures bear some resemblance to Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ – but it doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it if you don’t catch all the allusions. The takeaway for the show depends entirely on you. Rather than telling a story, Warlop instead creates a world of beautiful chaos (not unlike what an artist’s exploded mind may look like) in which things happen without rhyme or reason. It induces all sorts of complex emotions, from disgust to euphoria, while inviting the audience to be the judge of the characters’ actions – they are violent or playful, lonely or mischievous, brilliant or idiotic.

Ultimately, it blurs all the boundaries and raises questions that can yield very different answers and conclusions, and that’s the genius of the show: you’re absolutely free to leave the theatre thinking it’s the best or worst experience you’ve ever had, but either way, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a feast for the eyes and the mind. And, in our opinion, a magical mystery tour with so many possibilities is definitely one that should not be missed.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Sound of Music’ Review

As the beloved story of Maria and the Trapp family arrives in Singapore, Gwen Pew finds this charming production – which stars six locally-selected children alongside a largely South African cast – an absolute delight.

The Sound of Music

19 Jul 2014: There’s an unofficial rule in theatre that one should never work with children, because it’s difficult to get things right when there are children involved. The Sound of Music breaks that rule six times over, as they brought in a bunch of locally-based kids – all aged between seven and 14 and who won their roles from an open audition held here a few months ago – to star alongside the seasoned, largely South African cast.  They are an absolute joy to watch: not only did they never miss a cue or a line, they ooze charm and cuteness while they’re at it, too.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Maria, a mischievous nun who becomes the governess, and later stepmother, to the seven children of the widowed Captain von Trapp against the backdrop of the Nazis’ advances. Comparisons to the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews as Maria are inevitable. Indeed, some have noted that there are a few minor discrepencies here and there, though it should be remembered that the original Rodgers and Hammerstein musical preceeded the film adaptation by a good six years (and both of them were based on the 1956 German film, Die Trapp-Famillieand the real Maria’s own memoir). But just because all the action is restricted to the stage, it does not mean that the quality is compromised. In this Lunchbox Productions performance, the set is as elaborate as can be. From the grassy hills to Captain von Trapp’s lavishly furnished mansion, they magically transport us through time and place to the mountains of Austria in the 1930s. Meanwhile, the crew also shows careful attention to detail, to the point where the sky in the background actually gradually dims into a gorgeous sunset as a conversation goes on.

Bethany Dickson captures the spirit of Maria nicely despite a couple of cracked notes at the start, enunciating every word with beautiful clarity and melody, while Andre Schwartz’s portrayal of the Captain is that of a warm and gentle man whose strictness soon gives way to love and patriotism (culminating in a heartwrenching rendition of ‘Edelweiss’). James Borthwick and Taryn Sudding also depict the characters of the Captain’s friend Max Detweiler and Baroness Schraeder well and, blessed with by far the biggest voice, Janelle Visagie’s performance as the Mother Abbess stands out powerfully, filling the theatre with her kindness, wisdom and vibrato.

Overall, The Sound of Music is an absolute delight; its pacing is right and it strikes a good pace and balance between being fun and dealing with the serious implications of the Second World War. Whether it’s the sweet children, classic tunes like ‘Do Re Me’ and ‘My Favourite Things’ accompanied by wonderfully played live music, or simply to relive your childhood, there are plenty of reasons to catch the show. As long as it keeps up this level of professionalism consistently for the rest of its run here, there’s no doubt that it will be a success.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Fluid’ Review

Liu Xiaoyi’s latest work, Fluid, sets out to question what theatre is. While the prospect of such a mammoth task sounds daunting, Gwen Pew instead finds a beautiful, whimsical performance that takes the audience on a child-like journey of rediscovery.

Fluid

8 Jul 2014: Saturday night’s performance of Fluid began with an announcement. ‘Hello everybody,’ says actress Li Xie in softly spoken Mandarin. ‘We haven’t been doing so well in terms of ticket sales, so feel free to move in a little closer to keep warm.’ It’s a shame that only ten or so of us were huddled in that chilly Flexible Performance Space at Lasalle that night, because what followed were 75 of the best minutes we’ve spent in quite a while.

Perhaps it was the intimidating prospect of the play that deterred some people from buying a ticket; after all, its creator, Liu Xiaoyi, had set out to ask a big question: ‘what is theatre?’ Its imposing premise could have resulted in an overly intellectual, or even pretentious, interpretation. But instead, the play stripped everything right back to the basics, and led us on an almost child-like journey of rediscovery. There’s the black box theatre space, two actors – Lie Xie and Lim Chin Huat – a floor lamp, a chair, a desk and a vintage turntable; meanwhile, a sea of clear white plastic bags floods the entire back and mid sections of the area, creating a simple but effective backdrop.

Narrated by an animated voice playing from a vinyl, this is the story of Lao Wang, a 60-something cashier who lives a quiet, mundane life but decides to take a week of no-pay leave to join a theatre workshop in the mountains. Every now and then, the voice pauses and our attention shifts to Lim’s playful choreography, performed amidst the plastic bags and set to a minimalistic piano score and ripples of light. We never get to meet any of the characters in the plot or see the actions take place, but in the darkness of the space, our imagination roams freely.

We don’t ever get directly told that this is what theatre is, either. Instead, the stage is set as an invitation for us to decide what theatre means to us. It becomes a personal narrative – each of us has a bit of Lao Wang in us, but what do we make of the art of the stage? There’s no right or wrong answer, and we can take away whatever we want from it. We’re even given two endings to choose from.

With this delicately-crafted play, it’s all about the little things, and the painstaking attention to detail pays off. From Mr Wang’s brutally, hilariously honest musings (‘I paid this much money just to let people watch me strip? Is this what art is about these days?’) to the unexpected aspects of the work that takes you out of your element, Fluid keeps the surprises coming. Its whimsical nature also ensures that things remain light-hearted and entertaining throughout, making it a beautifully thought-provoking experience to be savoured long after the lights come back on.