>NEVERMIND by Singapore Broadway Playhouse

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 17 mar 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: *1/2

>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.
 

>>>>>TOO MUCH MATTER, NEVERMIND

Bitterness. It's invasive. It can eat you up. It gets under your skin till it's all you feel and all you are capable of experiencing. It certainly got into the lines of writer-director Nick Ng's NEVERMIND. And so I am faced with a problem: if I write a slam review, I suspect I will contribute to the growing and festering of this bitterness which will then manifest itself even more strongly in Ng's next production. I want no responsibility for that happening so I shall subdue my initial urge towards vitriol and shall instead accentuate the positive. Having said that, I fear I shall find little positive to say about the script or the direction.

The acting is a different matter; although for the most part, acting is a misleading term. Bereft of characterization and generally lacking emotion, only "Message" remained, and the transmission of this Message was a discipline closer to storytelling, or even performance art (which Ng attacks) than it was to acting. That's not to say it was not done well. The cast had obviously been well-rehearsed and, apart from a couple of jitters at the very start, they spoke their lines clearly and expressively. As they did this, they very often writhed and squirmed, portraying agony and various gradations of being trapped. Despite wondering why so much of this was necessary, I have to admit that they did it pretty well. And at occasional points where more naturalistic acting was required, the actors did more than justice to the lines they'd been given.

>>'Several people left and many more turned their attention to things other than what was on stage.'

The set they writhed and dashed around on was a simple affair but was versatile nonetheless. By using (in ascending order) small white blocks, a plain scaffold, and ropes the actors could dangle from the ceiling on, different tiers of height and depth were created, and these enabled some striking tableaux. Unfortunately, as with all of the play, these tableaux were held too long and what initially impressed eventually grated.

A sharp sense for the visual was also apparent in the video screen hung from the proscenium arch. The footage shown on it had been well shot and edited and the photo montages and text messages that flashed up there were slick and eye-catching. Eye-catching often to the extent that they distracted from the live performance going on below, but this was not always a bad thing. The play's music had a similar effect. Although well-chosen and executed, it was slightly too loud in the quieter scenes. In the louder scenes, the discords it created were effective but, like the tableaux I mentioned earlier, the music lasted considerably longer than the sensation it instilled.

What was most impressive about the production was its slickness. I should qualify; the very start resembled a dodgy school play but after that, everything became much more professional. Apart from a couple of understandably difficult scene changes involving dangling actors, everything went smoothly, no cues were missed and the cast and crew had clearly managed to come up with exactly what the director wanted. It is a shame that what he wanted did not work.

Again, I shall qualify: there were two scenes that were quite entertaining. A sketch done on the MRT which ridiculed various professions was quite cute and a scene about the mind of the Kia Su Singaporean was also amusing. Neither, however, achieved half the laughs they intended. And as for the rest, I can only say that when the audience realised, about an hour and a quarter into the play, that there would be no interval, there was considerable discomfort. Several people left and many more turned their attention to things other than what was on stage. A man in front of me started scribbling on his feedback form (although I couldn't read it, exclamation marks were obviously in evidence) and a woman behind me actually plugged herself into her walkman and started reading a book in the half-light.

You see, by this time, the audience had already got everything it could get from the play, several times over. Its message was simple, extremely slowly delivered and incredibly repetitious. After twenty minutes we already knew that Life is Unfair, Big Brother is Watching Us and Materialism is Stifling the Soul but those who stayed were bombarded with this kind of polemic for another hour and forty minutes.

To be fair, Ng has natural strengths. He has a flair for the visual, an eye for dramatic cleanness and the ability to discipline his cast into getting what he wants out of them. But his obvious urge to experiment does not excuse him from the duty of editing and if his discipline can be turned back onto his scripts, eradicating self-indulgence and finding some kind of foil for the mind-numbing resentment which was the body and soul of NEVERMIND, then I think the audience might stick around next time.