>3some by the necessary stage

>reviewed by Matthew Lyon

>date: 6 May 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: The necessary stage black box
>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 necessary step

Nice Uncle Government has given those naughty children at The Necessary Stage a pretty new home at Marine Parade where they can sit by the sea and think happy, grateful thoughts. Hah! That'll stop them doing any more of that embarrassing provocative-type drama that they're famous for, won't it?

But then again, their first production in the new venue is called 3SOME and this trio of short plays makes features of politics, sexuality and all those things that are better left under the carpet.

Ah, well, Uncle Government, it was worth a try...

"A totally new theatrical concoction", promised the flyers for 'Princess Diana Is Dead', the first part of 3SOME. Hmmm ... let's not be too hasty - if you strip away the little extras, it's basically just a film. In fact, what's newest about it is showing it in a theatre rather than a cinema.

Through interviews with various luminaries, it charts the vaunted history of that great politico-dramatical institution, The Necessary Stage, which, throughout its hundred-year existence, has been the guiding force in Singapore's development from fishing village to international centre of commerce.

>>'This production is a necessary step in reconfirming the company's identity in a time of change - a necessary step and, more or less, an enjoyable one'

Styled as a "mockumentary", it's a witty blend of self-mythologizing and absolute piss-take that twists and turns, but always succeeds in following its own absurd brand of logic. It follows it for too long, however, and its several priceless comic moments can't quite stop it dragging. Also, the link with Princess Diana is tenuous at best, despite footage of her being shown on a second screen, and Chong Tze Chien's film-making skills are not yet properly developed. But it's good to have a theatre company that's willing to try new things, and 'Diana', good fun in itself, is hopefully a sign of greater things to come.

Now for the one you all already know about, 'untitled women number one'. Everyone must have seen the press reports, with the New Paper's front page screaming scandal and in the process (ironically) displaying the photo of a man's naked arse to far more people than will ever see it in performance. You can't buy that kind of publicity.

However, any of you lechers out there hoping for a cheap thrill and a flash of stocking will go home disappointed. Sure, you get a bloke in the buff but he never moves a muscle and I'm even willing to entertain the possibility that he was put there for Serious Artistic Reasons. In any case, he is not the centre of attraction: Nora Samosir and Emma Yong are. They play two women of unknown past, unclear present and unguessable future. We only ever see them caught in the emotion of the moment, and we are given no reasons for their actions, only the actions themselves themselves.

I say actions where I should say words, as they remain throughout as motionless and trapped as the naked corpse lying in its prison of light. Jeff Chen's static direction is effective as a symbolic tool and he does nicely subtle things with the lighting, but such stillness restricts the talents of his two capable actresses.

Impact is restricted further by the script. Writer Haresh Sharma refuses to give the audience any context, any explanation, any clues as to what is going on (Yong suddenly screams, "I'm suffocating!" "Why?", we wonder but are never told). The sparseness of Sharma's words can be poetic, but it is not enough to sustain the piece when we realize that there is no story attached. We are asked instead to construct our own narrative and, without much to grasp hold of, this proves a difficult task.

If you can piece together Sharma's symbols into a picture you are happy with, you may find 'untitled women' a rewarding experience. If - as I couldn't - you can't, it will leave you cold.

The third and final play, 'Talk', saw TNS firing on all cylinders. Sharma, joined here by Alvin Tan, was back to the style of writing he does best: frantic and funny, wordy and unnerving.

Like the previous play, the action was non-linear, but in this case one could make out enough to be satisfied: there is a murderer/rapist and a woman who killed her own baby, and both are guests on some kind of crazy-assed talk show. Other characters come in too, and all are brought to life by the very talented Darren Chiam and Peter Sau who both turn in versatile, volatile performances. The direction (which must be a team effort as it seem evolved rather than imposed) allows the actors to explore their full physical and vocal range and they obviously have a great time doing it.

The script poses such questions as what the causes of deviance are, and whether we even care, so long as we are entertained; and this is done with a refreshingly light hand. However, the ending is overlong, rather indulgent and allows didacticism to creep in. Fortunately, it cannot spoil the excellence of what came before it.

3SOME is a strange mixed bag. For their first outing at Marine Parade, TNS could surely have staged more audience-friendly material. But that wouldn't have made their point. With 3SOME's nudity, experimentation, swearing and its merest smidgen of political satire, they might as well have printed a message on the programme: "Dear all, despite government patronage, We Have Not Sold Out: we are still as subversive as ever." This production is a necessary step in reconfirming the company's identity in a time of change - a necessary step and, more or less, an enjoyable one.