>THE SWIMMING INSTRUCTOR by ACTION Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 30 mar 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>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.
 

>>>>>THE ABYSS WITHIN

Blame it on the swimming pool but flux was clearly in the scheme of things in THE SWIMMING INSTRUCTOR(TSI).

TSI came back for a second run with a new script and new cast and it made all the difference.

This time, Dave(Steven Lim) and Jan(Jaime Yeo) return to the poolside for more bitching and ogling. Guan remains their object of affection(actually more lust than love) as the sex symbol swimming instructor, subsequently forming the amorous trinity with the two. Really it's the modern equation of love and sex - that the two might stand alone most of the time, but really each is but a shadow of the other.

While the play retained the basic storyline, additional scenes elucidated the character's deeper crannies of thoughts while propelling the play itself into a new direction at the same time. A new bedroom scene between Guan and Jan made their relationship a lot clearer while another potential bedroom scene between Guan and Dave also made their relationship a lot less ambiguous.

>>'additional scenes elucidated the character's deeper crannies of thoughts while propelling the play itself into a new direction at the same time'

The banter between Dave and Jan riding on the double entendres was hilarious and charming. Steven Lim as Dave brought a sense of quiet strength to the role with his formidable gaze and detached silhouette. He gave a stellar performance of a sacred soul, haunted by his own ghosts but determined to live his life as honestly as he could. With each meaningful glance and pensive countenance, he was at once fiercely independent but at the same time needful for emotional support. A firm believer in systems and rules(some might say anal), Steven brought out the nuances of someone caught on the cusp of a potential whole new world and his own familiar habitat. Heartbreakingly poignant, Steven welled up tears not only in his eyes but also in many of the audience's.

Steven's performance was extraordinary precisely because it had none of the deliberate acting so common in the industry. Few actors can crawl so fittingly under a character's skin and to his credit that Steven fitted so well under Dave's.

Jaime Yeo was commendable as the poor little rich girl Jan insistent on getting her man. Portraying a small girl's seductiveness, she was suitably coy at times and sexually aggressive at others. However she ran out of steam by the second half of the play as she suffered from the "Ally Syndrome" - half an episode of Ally was cute but more than that became somewhat grating on your nerves. She didn't have Emma Yong's flexibility in her emotional range and thus couldn't really give more dimensions to her "I'm-so-rich-but-so-unhappy" role.

Christian on the other hand was competent as Guan - better than Ix Shen but that itself doesn't say much. Always stuttering and mumbling his way through, one does wonder if there are better ways to flesh out a swimming instructor rather than slurry staccato speech patterns. Christian had a better grasp of the character but that was partly due to the added scenes for Guan in the new script. All in all Christian gave a more layered performance than Ix but more could have been done with the role.

With the changes in so many areas of the play, it did achieve a whole new feel as Steven claimed in his interview. While the previous production was light, frothy and truly deserving of the summer heat it generated, the current edition was a lot heavier and more somber. The puns and jokes were still there but the new scenes gave the play a gravity it didn't have before.

And yet strangely enough, while the new edition is different in so many aspects, it remains the same in many others. The strong points of the play are still the witty script and light handed treatment of potentially tedious issues. Playwright, Desmond Sim, kept the funniest lines in the new edition - lines that deserved the Oscar Wilde award if there was any such thing. Lines like "Flattery will get you everywhere" would be perfect once they get Rupert Everett-like actors to mouth those divine lines.

Watching the play again is in many ways like homecoming after being away for a while - even though the faces have already becoming unfamiliar, the spirit and soul of the place remains. Maybe you don't recognize the facades anymore but once you reach the core, you realize you are back at the familiar depths of the human condition - yearning, pain, hurt, vulnerability, incompleteness, lust, love and other demons.