>TRUE DEEP BLUE by Tri Arts

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 9 jun 2000
>time: 10:30
>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.
 

>>>>>INTO THE BLUE...

Ever wondered what it would be like to sit in the bottom of an empty swimming pool, huddled with a group of strangers as you look up at the blackness above? Well, in Tri Arts' TRUE DEEP BLUE, the audience was plunged into such a scenario, where a two-metre-tall hollowed out cube, covered with white linen, was located in the centre of the Guinness Theatre. And it was within this precarious structure that the audience was seated barefoot, caught in this theatrical pool of ideas.

TRUE DEEP BLUE was a series of vignettes that attempted to explore the twin ideas of control and obsession in the urban environment of Singapore. Using the metaphor of swimming as an exercise of controlled and disciplined movements, the play portrayed the way Singaporeans, in their focussed attempts to take the upper-hand in relationships and situations, have lost their sense of balance and have given in to the excess of control and the power that this brings. And it was this that the colour blue, for all its beguiling sense of security, had an underlying threat: in becoming too obsessed with minor details, we lose sight of the range of other colours and instead concentrate our attention on a monochromatic shade of inert dullness.

>>'Some of the scenes were original in their premise and clever in their execution'

Some of the scenes were original in their premise and clever in their execution: we had the parent-child relationship that was controlled by money; the contrived feedback session that was so entertaining in its apparent artlessness, in obtaining answers on swimming preferences from the audience; the creepy stalker who left sleazy messages on the answering machine and the poignant story of a mother and son, who both tried to be the dominant force in their relationship.

Direction by Jeffrey Tan was adept and he managed to make full use of the limited space, though at times, the constant craning of the neck to look up at the actors as they performed on the sides of the 'pool' was quite tiring. The use of multimedia - in particular the photographs of Tan Ngiap Heng that was projected as a backdrop for certain scenes - highlighted the sanitised and uncluttered world of those control freaks, filled with an un-real, two-dimensional reality. Amidst this background of clean lines and empty spaces, the actors - especially Sean Tobin and Adzmye Sulaiman - bolstered the production with a mix of raw energy and composed intensity.

Yet for all the ingenuity of the various devised scenes, it had to be said that at times they amounted to slightly more than light sketches. The links between the scenes were too tenuous, and taken as a whole, they presented a series of points rather than created any sense of development or argument as to what the production was trying to say. Like being afloat in the swimming pool, the play seemed to drift without a sense of direction. With the number of good ideas that abound in the production, you wished that a deeper exploration -- presented as a movement of thought into a sense of a conclusion -- and greater characterisation had been employed to give the play a necessary anchor.

At the end of the production, amidst the questioning cry that asked 'When was the last time you saw the sky', the actors unfolded a large piece of billowing silver cloth above the heads of the audience. This became an inventive way to create, for the audience, a moment of self-reflection, as when one is underwater in the swimming pool and looks up, a part of him is always reflected back. And for all the attempts of the production to present a Singaporean portrait of control maniacs, you wish that the mirror held up had provided a better and more detailed reflection, instead of a shimmering image that was both elusive and inconclusive.