>CHANG AND ENG CONCERT IN THE PARK by Action Theatre

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 13 aug 2000
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: fort canning park
>rating: not rated

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>WHO NEEDS A ROOF?

Spray on the insect repellent, drag out the aged groundsheet from your granny's spare room and prepare to prove that the aircon hasn't made you soft, because it's outdoor play time! After all, the theatre is not merely a building, it is a living, breathing experience, an organic fusion of man and nature. Unless it rains, in which case it's just sad and faintly ridiculous.

SDT cottoned on a long time back with their 'Ballet Under the Stars' programmes and now ACTION Theatre has got in on the act with the inaugural production of what looks set to be a biannual event: the 'Picnic Theatre' series. Come, eat, frolic on the grass and let us entertain you seems to be the idea, and a very welcome one may it prove to be, especially considering the reduced pricing and the not inconsiderable ambience of Fort Canning Park.

Now, you all know about CHANG AND ENG already, don't you? (If you don't, check the archives) After all, it was National Day last week, and what (perversely, considering the twins were Thai) could be more Singaporean than its longest running home-grown musical - the very rhinestone in its red and white tiara? Having garnered critical bouquets, dodged the brickbats and notched up an impressive number of performances, the show of two halves was back for two nights in a new lite version.

>>'A friend of mine and self-confessed fan declared, for example, that it was "an insult to the original". But when you think about it, that can only be taken as a compliment, can't it?'

Replacing all the acting with a narrator, the focus this time round had shifted very definitely away from the story of the original Siamese twins' lives and very definitely towards the music - but, just as a song without the music rarely constitutes a poem, a musical shorn of its script is not necessarily a concert; and when the story leaves the room (or, in this case, the park), interest in the songs is often wont to follow.

Having said that, it didn't prove to be so much of a problem in the first half, where Ken Low's numbers stood up quite well on their own. Stuck Together was a fun opener and Eighth Wonder of the World packed a big, brassy punch, but the obvious star was Mai Phen Rai, where Selena Tan did particularly well to invest the already heart-tugging tune with enough pathos to bring a lump to the throat. Her voice, although not as technically proficient as many of the others', had a wonderful expressiveness which was able to convey emotion more effectively than the strictly controlled vibratos of her fellow performers.

The second half didn't fare as well, however, with the songs appearing rather dull - and even in some cases irrelevant - devoid of their dramatic contexts. The American Civil war and midwifery were all bound up in some arcane way that needed a storyline to make proper sense of and the catchiness quotient of Low's tunes dropped somewhat. A couple of microphone hitches and an occasional rolling picture problem on the giant screens capturing the action for those at the back can't have helped matters, although, to be fair, the overall sound quality was very good and the screened images had been edited together with scenes from the full indoor performance most effectively.

This was a pleasantly entertaining evening but it surely can't be anything compared to the legendary tearfest which is the full production. Perhaps its most significant achievement is that it whetted the appetite for another run of the whole show. And for those who had already seen that, it perhaps proved slightly disappointing. A friend of mine and self-confessed fan declared, for example, that it was "an insult to the original". But when you think about it, that can only be taken as a compliment, can't it?