>SH:U:SH by The ETCeteras

>reviewed by adrian wong

>date: 1 sep 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: guinness theatre
>rating: **

>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.


The evening promised to be a spooky, dark and hair-raising affair, and it certainly lived up to it. The pacing was sheer horror, the lines made my skin crawl and the acting at some parts was simply blood-curdling.

This was truly a disappointing production coming from a company whose track record includes the popular sell-outs " Love a la Venus" and "Madame White Snake". The previous productions were of assured entertainment value and left the audience with some food for thought and fodder for idle coffee breaks after they had left the theatre. Alas, this reviewer was left in only dismay after this 2-hour production.

It started with stage veteran Liang Fook as a tour guide, who was supposed to set the tone for the evening by involving the audience in his "ghost story"-telling. However, he was unable to fully engage the mostly giggly pubescent audience, as his attempts to involve them were sporadic and superficial. The ghost story-telling segment was often self-indulgent, as he shifted through alternating dimensions of his own story and that of his present status as a tour guide. This confused and alienated the audience, rather than engaged or spooked them. He was competent in executing his lines and in dramatic acting, but needed more work in engaging the passive audience.

>>'Though the effort to play with some theatrical ideas was commendable, it did little to lift the production out of the depths'

Technically, the set, lighting, and sound were able to create the ambience of a haunted house. The unfortunate thing was, it was relied upon too heavily to sustain the spook factor of the production. The use of clichés (white facial mask, torch light on face, etc…) fell flat, and the consistently slow pace of the entire thing made it difficult to differentiate one scene from another or to glean much from any scene in particular.

The plot threw up few surprises. Instead, it only confused as it veered off into different directions without finally addressing any of them. The lost soul who yearns for someone to bring him home, the three seemingly good friends who each have their own secrets, and the soldier who is undecided about leaving or staying ... it became interesting when the characters' fear of the unknown (i.e. ghosts) was directed inward and juxtaposed with their own and each other's skeletons in the closet (literally "ghosts in the heart" in Chinese); yet this was disappointedly lost even upon the cast itself which never made the most of its potential. Space was sorely under-utilized in the Substation as well and this became glaringly obvious when the cast's deliberate and highly rehearsed movements were constrained to the point that they seemed uncomfortable and lacking in real internal motivations.

The script was also living in the shadow of a school production which did not help things; in this case, the motive of writing a school play was the reason for the 3 girls to visit the haunted house. This bleached the credibility of the script, and gave an amateurish air to the production. Cooking instant noodles over an open flame did set some mouths watering, and the smell of burning wood was reminiscent of our school camping days but all these tricks to evoke audience rapport did little to actually help the script. because there were nothing much to enhance and substantiate in the first place.

The characters of Matthew and Adeline were adequately portrayed, and these two actors seemed able to handle better material. The rest of the cast overacted at times, but it would not be fair to hold them up for shallow character development as the lines did not really allow them the space for it. The improvised script was neither tight nor organized, and the scattered scenes could have been be better paced into a 1-hour play without much loss. Though the effort to play with some theatrical ideas was commendable, it did little to lift the production out of the depths of the witch's cauldron.