Time Out Singapore: ‘Hello Goodbye’ Review

14 Sep 2015: The Singapore Repertory Theatre stages its very first rom-com, but the bland production fails to arouse any sort of warm, fuzzy feelings in us

★★☆☆☆

Hello Goodbye - SRT

Photo by Singapore Repertory Theatre

The Singapore Repertory Theatre is known for staging some pretty hard-hitting stuff, but for the first time in its 22-year history, the company decided to delve into a much more whimsical world of romantic comedy by performing Peter Souter’s Hello Goodbye. It’s a refreshing change, especially since the local theatre scene is currently dominated by works that deal with more serious topics. But while the idea sounds appealing, the choice of play leaves much to be desired.

Hello Goodbye’s fundamental flaw lies in its script. It begins with two strangers, Juliet (Denise Tan) and Alex (Shane Mardjuki), both moving into the same apartment on the same day. Rather than getting their incompetent estate agents to sort the mess out, they choose to squabble like children for the entire hour of the first act – which culminates in a make-out session and the curtains coming down just before their clothes fall off. The second act takes place ten years down the line, when the couple is on the brink of a divorce. It makes us wish that we hadn’t nipped to the bathroom during the intermission, as the most important, tender part of the play seems to have taken place then.

Since we didn’t get to see how Juliet and Alex’s relationship developed, it’s impossible to empathise with them when they fall out of love. The premise of the play is that opposites attract – but we struggle to find anything attractive here. Every play requires the audience to suspend a certain degree of disbelief, but their match is so improbable that it leaves us feeling completely incredulous. Tan portrays the spoilt, crazy, selfish Juliet perfectly well (after all, she did play a similar role in Pangdemonium’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice a couple of years ago), and Mardjuki is great at playing up all the quirks and quiet eccentricity of Alex – and yet there’s almost no chemistry between them. In fact, it almost seems like they couldn’t quite believe that they lasted ten years together, either. Their exchanges are often predictable and their jokes are more cringey than witty.

The production could have used a much stronger direction from Lisa Spirling. We don’t see the point in bringing onstage the two secondary characters – Juliet’s ex-boyfriend (David Howard) and a pretty auctioneer (Amanda Tee) – for instance, as they appear for a grand total of around five minutes each, and their physical presence adds little to the story.

Don’t get us wrong. We love a good rom-com as much as anyone, but the play simply doesn’t have enough charm or soul to keep us engaged for two hours. It’s by no means a terrible production, and there are one or two rather heart-warming scenes in the second half, but we’re not sure what to take away from the production, and we certainly didn’t leave with the warm, fuzzy feelings that we were looking for.

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Time Out Singapore: ‘The Tempest’ Review

11 May 2015: Shakespeare in the Park returns for its seventh edition. Gwen Pew shares her thoughts on the production

★★★☆☆

Photo: Watson Lau

Photo: Watson Lau

The final rays of the sun fade into black. Moths, flies, bats and other creatures of the night emerge from the trees and flutter around spotlights. The odd pair of headlights blinks in the distance, then disappears.

At the front of the Fort Canning Park lawn, a huge open book towers over the audience on picnic mats, reminding us of the famous stage used in the 1999 performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. The book’s pages are covered in symbols and scribbles like a Da Vinci notebook, and enticingly lit. Combine all these elements and it seems like the perfect setting for the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s seventh edition of Shakespeare in the Park, The Tempest.

The story takes place on a magical island ‘full of noises, strange sounds and sweet melodies’. There, the wizardly Prospero (Simon Robson) – the rightful duke of Milan who was cast to sea by his usurping brother, Antonio (Matt Grey) and the conspiring Alonso, king of Naples (Ian Shaw) – has been living with his daughter, Miranda (Julie Wee), for the past 12 years. When Antonio and Alonso’s ship passes by the island one fateful day, Prospero sets his spirit servant, Ariel (Ann Lek), to stir up a storm that will safely bring everyone on board to shore. His plan: confront them and their past wrongdoings.

Did the production soar to the heights that we had hoped for? Sort of, but not quite. It’s enjoyable enough, but the sense of wonder wanes, and we never feel like we truly entered a ‘brave new world’. The set, as pretty as it is, does not serve much of a purpose, and quickly loses its appeal. The actors, likewise, deliver their lines as directed, but most of them don’t do justice to the beauty of the verses.

Robson’s Prospero, for instance, doesn’t come across as someone we should either pity or fear, while the chemistry between Wee’s Miranda and Timothy Wan’s Ferdinand – as fickle as their love-at-first-sight relationship may be – fizzles. The exceptions are Theo Ogundipe, who conveys with zest both the depravity and the tragedy of the deformed monster Caliban, and Daniel Jenkins and Shane Mardjuki, who make a great pair of drunken jesters as Stephano and Trinculo, respectively.

A couple of scenes are visually interesting – such as Ariel dancing between the massive blue cloth of a stormy ocean, or her taking the form of a gigantic bright red harpy to reprimand the usurpers – but they are, sadly, few and far between.

Overall, The Tempest is not much of a spectacle. It doesn’t stand out as a particularly bad performance, but it’s certainly not one of the company’s best, either. And yet, as one of the handful of annual events to encourage people to go to the park and enjoy an evening of literature under the stars, it serves its purpose.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Rising Son’ Review

Presented as part of the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s new Made in Singapore series, Dick Lee’s latest play is based on his father’s real experiences during the Second World War. The beautiful and poignant performance gets full marks from Gwen Pew.

Rising Son

2 Apr 2014: We’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few good performances in Singapore, but Dick Lee’s Rising Son – the first play in his newly writtenFamily Trilogy that is shown as part of the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Made in Singapore series – is on a level of its own. Simply put, it’s a powerful work that is masterfully enacted by a great cast. Based on the true story of the renowned playwright’s father, the plot centres on the uneasy friendship that develops between 18-year-old Sunny Lee (Tan Shou Chen), his naïve but strong-minded younger sister Ruby (Seong Hui Xuan) and a highly-educated, soft-spoken Japanese army lawyer Hiroyuki Sato (Caleb Goh) who moved in next door during the Second World War.

The thing that really comes through in this bittersweet production – one of Dick Lee’s first plays with virtually no music and dance numbers involved – is how human all the characters are. We tend to go into a show expecting there to be a protagonist and an antagonist, and for there to be a right and wrong.Rising Son doesn’t have that sense of black and white, and it’s precisely this quality that makes it so relatable. It shows a huge amount of compassion, and yet the cast never lets the performance slip into the realm of over-the-top melodrama either. It’s refreshing to see Seong and Goh, two familiar faces in the local musical theatre scene, take on such challenging roles, while Tan successfully brings Sunny’s conflicted feelings to life. They embody the very essence of their characters and it’s clear that they understand their parts to the soul. Under Eric Ting’s expert direction, even tiny gestures like silences and sideward glances speak volume.

Of course, knowing that it’s based on the real experiences of Sunny Lee makes it even more poignant, but by the end of the play we can’t help but feel that this is a story that needs to be told. We grow up being told of all the horrors that the Japanese inflicted on locals, and while the work acknowledges that loud and clear through Sunny’s passionate speeches about ‘the enemy’, its ultimate message is that there is no absolute in any circumstances. There is always another side to a story, and there is always hope and kindness, even in places you least expect to find it.

Despite its strong moralistic message, we never feel like we’re being preached at, and that is the genius of the script and the way the actors delivered them. We sympathise with Sunny’s internal struggle, with Ruby’s desperate desire to experience the world outside the house she has to stay within for safety, and with Hiroyuki’s yearning for everything to return to normal so he can go home to his ailing parents. And yet it’s not just the sadness and frustration that we witness; indeed, there are so many little moments of genuine warmth and laughter – Ruby’s attempt to teach Hiroyuki how to dance, for instance, or when Sunny enjoys the evening air with Hiroyuki in his backyard even though their neighbours might gossip – to remind us of life’s simple pleasures. All of that, coupled with an effectively simplistic set and great lighting, makes Rising Son a thoroughly enjoyable, refreshing and beautiful work; kudos to all involved.