>SAFE IN THESE ARMS by Glass Theatre

>reviewed by adi soon

>date: 27 apr 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: guinness theatre
>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.


SAFE IN THESE ARMS began with the premise that it would be a sitcom style comedy. It also billed itself as a play not too largely concerned with the AIDS issue even though it's appearance was of no doubt. That the publicity labelled itself in such a manner had already created certain ideas in my head of what I would expect. Firstly it was bound to have a purpose in entertainment. Secondly, that there would be no in-depth exploration into the theme of AIDS since it was not the main concern in the first place. On this point then, it seemed not to concur too effectively with the ACTION FOR AIDS affiliation and the free condoms that were handed out at the door. I suppose the play's ultimate AIDS related message was simply to go take the test if you suspect you've got it. In terms of allowing a glimpse into the mental state and the changes in lifestyle an AIDS sufferer has to go through, Darren, the HIV inflicted character had not much room to show this. I suppose it was to be expected right from the start.

The sitcom style approach certainly was in force courtesy of the script. The lines were most definitely witty and the audience had its share of laughs. Most of the jokes were above pedestrian and there were a few that deserved to be called gems. In each individual scene, the lines were well paced and had an exquisitely crafted feel about them. I was certainly impressed at the level of competence in the writing. However, these good lines were simply not translated into an engaging and thought provoking plot. The plot followed a linear progression of events and was in many ways too simple for my liking. Furthermore because the sitcom genre and comedy in general lend themselves well to stereotypes, the plot fell into the trap of going along with the expected sequences that in the end offered nothing new. I have no doubt however that this is not a limitation of the genre. Some of the best writing defies accepted norms and it was in this direction that I had hoped the play would lead me. One place where I saw room for the script to have gone further was in the times when the characters argue. There was clearly more space to develop the emotional tension in the arguments and I found myself disappointed when the climax came too soon and somewhat half-heartedly. These were scenes set up with a promising beginning and progressing along to a brilliant climax that should have been further developed. Not to discredit the writers from the already difficult job of writing a full-length play, the writing was above average but needed that something extra special to lift it higher.

>>'The play as a whole was largely competent in what it set out to do.'

In terms of acting, the strongest performance of the night came from Bruce San who played Anthony. Playing a homosexual in a comedy requires one to adopt the signature gestures of the floppy hand and the bitchy banter that are normally associated. And in this, it was his laughter inducing portrayal that created an accessible and loveable stereotype. Even so, this was not the source of his strength. He shone though in the individual monologues and in the overall sense of being the actor most comfortable in the character's skin. BaoYing who played Stephanie was strong as well. She proved a perfect "girlfriend" to Bruce San's Anthony. As an actress, she was supremely comfortable with her body and this gave her nymphomaniacal tendencies more credibility. It was a pity though that her capabilities seemed unused. She is clearly an actress with a greater range. The role of Darren largely required more emotional depth and in this respect, James Seow delivered an inconsistent performance. Though he had good comic sense, he felt somewhat wooden at the parts that demanded more depth. Furthermore, he tended slightly towards exaggeration with an over physicallized portrayal. This did not match well with the acting style of his fellow actors. In the intimate space of the black box, a subtler portrayal would have been better.

That said, the cast did exhibit a general lack of polish in the way that their energies were not heightened enough. At the beginning the cast floated on stage and it took time for them to warm up to each other and to the audience. Though there were undoubtedly a few moments of brilliance, it was always a tiring up hill climb after these highs. If the energy had held more tension, and if the lines were not wasted through too long pauses, I suspect that the play's energy and the audience's attention could have been held more consistently. Similarly, it would have helped if the number of transitions were minimised and that a faster execution of the momentary black outs had taken place.

The choice of the Substation Black Box suited the intimate three actor cast of the play but the design of the set was somewhat limited and unimaginative. It was a cramped set first of all with a large part of the stage wasted on what seemed like a storage area behind the area of the main action. I would have preferred a more open set such that the acting was not concentrate on the small space. In fact the set looked distinctly unbalanced. Furthermore the two large shimmering pieces of cloth hung from the ceiling behind the couch seemed more like beautifying excesses than any useful part of the set. I must say that these and their placement were uncomfortably distracting to the action of the play. And what was with the release of the CD soundtrack? The music was nothing to shout about in the first place, as was the theme song. In fact the whole enterprise seemed a little passé to me. I suppose now that other local productions like the "Swimming Instructor" and "Madam What's Next" have begun releasing soundtracks, it may soon become an industry wide practice. Although I hope it is a novelty that will die out soon.

The play as a whole was largely competent in what it set out to do. As I walked out of the theatre, I overheard people talking about how much they enjoyed it. This is an appraisal that I generally agree with although enjoyment can only go so far. The play could have been much better and I hope the creative team behind it will take heed and build on their strengths. One final note, and a very real gripe. I'd really hope any future theatre groups planning to use the Substation Black Box will refrain from over selling tickets at the door. Only so many people can fit into such a small space.