>[names changed to protect the innocent]: circus of fear by The Necessary Stage

>reviewed by amanda koh

>date: 14 jul 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the necessary stage black box
>rating: unrated

>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.


'Return of the Screw' by Stages was an exploration of fear and death while using Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw as a framing device. Rather than being merely presented with the different aspects of fear and the power of subjugation, the audience was given a performative role and thus the experience of being an object of fear or being pushed to experience fear.

Not able to contend with the traditional theatrical procenium arch, Stages took their audiences from the stairwells, to the toilets.... and the drain opposite the road from the community centre.

The Singaporean audience seeks to find anything to laugh about and this performance proved that they were not ready for interactive theatre that was not 'Ah Kongs Birthday Party'. The funeral scene which sought to explore perceptions of death and loss turned out to be more comical than anything else. Because audience members could only experience the various perceptions if different characters approached them, those who were not approached were sadly left in the dark. Also, this scene created a drop in emotion from the somewhat emotive preamble inside the theatrette with the various characters rendering their monologues from amongst the audience. It felt like the different characters were not fully emerging, and it didn't feel like the scene was taken seriously by the cast who appeared to have a greater interest in seeking out their own friends from the audience and cajoling them into participation rather than the dramatic purpose of the scene which did not come across to the audience.

>>'the play was effective in that it did instigate the audience to think about fear as an issue in themselves and in the context of their own lives which according to the director was the purpose of Return of the Screw'

The choice of the drain as a performance space was a laudable one in many ways, although certainly not acoustically. The somewhat unintelligible voices and the shadowy figures moving about in near darkness did heighten the effect of the supernatural, though. Sadly, because the funeral scene which was to touch on the issue of death was ineffective, the full effect of experiencing characters from the afterlife was lost. The audience appeared to be in the mood for more lighthearted entertainment and to a certain extent, the drain and the somewhat ridiculous notion of 'acting in a longkang' overwhelmed the dramatic importance of the scene. The fact that they had to spend a good amount of time crossing the road to the drain for the next scene killed some of the energy that the first scene had created.

What I felt was the most effective was the scene that took place in the toilets and the stairway. Being put in the place of an object of fear and having one's presence able to evoke terrified screams from characters did not give me the sense of power I had anticipated. I felt paralysed and to a certain extent, fear had taken over its source overwhelming even the source of fear to feel a certain sense of fear too. The scene, somewhat reminiscent of Artaudian theatre did manage to instill in the audience, an appreciation for the immensity of unleashed human emotion which in its raw and somewhat animalistic form, did not need a dialogue to give it voice.

The use of Henry Jame's Turn of the Screw as a framing device would have been effective only if the audience had read and thought about the novel. The assumption that the audience would have such prior knowledge inadvertently bordered on snobbery and the exclusion of 'non-literary' audience. [names changed to protect the innocent] in being a 'community' theatre certainly does not cater merely to the NUS English Literature student or enthusiastic bibliophile. However on the other hand, the play would provide a good introduction to the theme of fear in James' novel and audience members who had not read the novel might be inspired to pick the book off the shelf after watching the play.

The site-specific nature of the play is laudable in that the play would have been ineffective in the traditional theatre setting. The exploration of avante garde proxemics in theatre was for the most part, well-executed. However, something to provide a sense of continuity between scenes while the audience was moving about was lacking; perhaps a character with a phobia for traffic after being hit by a car ? Ushers could have taken on an actantial role contributing to the exploration of fear. Possibilities abound and it was disappointing that the opportunity was not taken up by the artistic director.

Crossing the road with an onslaught of traffic served to prevent the audience from suspending their level of belief and by the time they reached the drain to watch the next scene, they were no longer in the imaginative frame of mind and saw literally the sight of people acting in the drain which in itself was sadly comical.

I did not understand the use of repetition at the end of the play and to me, it seemed to serve no dramatic purpose. It seemed that the play was attempting to be destructured and avante garde for the purpose of being avante garde in itself. The play seemingly doesn't make its own stance. Not providing a strong sense of closure inherently comes across as a convenient ending to a confused play.

However the play was effective in that it did instigate the audience to think about fear as an issue in themselves and in the context of their own lives which according to the director was the purpose of Return of the Screw. It was thought-provoking and even jarring and definately a powerful experience for both the audience and probably as well as the actor.