>club tempest by 3.14 company

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 4 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: venom club
>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.


Cruel title, right? Yes, I admit, it is rather nasty. But I justify the above parody of Shakespeare's famous line by the painful fact that in this production the original was repeated at least three times in the course of the evening - maybe more - each time with a different degree of e-lo-cu-tion and tonality. So one might argue they were asking for it.

Here's the premise: Technocrat Prospero has perfected human cloning with the assistance of his scientists (Ariels) and PR men (Calibans). He invites you to the opening bash for the Singapore arm of his operations, where anything could happen. Unfortunately, anything did, for this wasn't the tried and tested Tempest we're all used to - this was New Variant Tempest, a particularly virulent strain which had devolved away from Shakespeare's English into a clumsy, repetitive argot that, in any case, you couldn't hear properly through the muffled sound system. Meanwhile, random cast members would run around, checking on the audience, playing with their hair/ears/hand phones or divulging huge swathes of information to explain not so much the plot as the bizarre world of Prospero Incorporated, and this without the slightest provocation or subtlety. I ought to stress that I like interactive theatre and all my favourite productions of Shakespeare are updates, it's just that neither approach was appropriate in this manner or in this case.

However, as an art-object, rather than a theatrical experience, the show was not entirely flawed. The little gallery on bio-scientific advances that you got shown before you went down to the nightclub proper was well-conceived and rather witty, and there was some seriously swish multimedia going on - huge screens that morphed from one cast member's face to another were simply captivating. Even during the play proper, there were nice ideas which almost worked: Sheikh Haikel's rap would have been great if you'd been able to hear the words. But as good as individual fragments may have been, if you're telling a story, it's the narrative that counts (and even if you say you're not, the audience should still have some clue what's happening).

>>'In this catalogue of disappointments, the saddest thing is that a group of talented people have made a consummate miscalculation'

And the narrative was - not to put too fine a point on it - utterly buggered. Shakespeare's roles had been doubled up, tripled, and even in two cases, septupled. Despite knowing this play pretty well, I often had very little idea what was going on and had to do some serious and rather abstract interpreting. For some of my not so Eng-Litty friends, who happened never to have read it, the experience was mystifying.

How much of the story you caught seemed to depend on where you were standing at any given point. For example, I happened to be refilling my glass at the bar when Mohan Sachdev, playing Gonzalo, was dragged past me, screaming. I saw and heard him, but unamplified screams don't carry very far in a nightclub, and my friends by the dance floor glimpsed neither hide nor hair. And at least I could tell that Sachdev was playing Gonzalo. Practically all the characters, and particularly the supporting cast, had been so drastically changed as to render them unrecognisable and to necessitate constant glances at the programme to work out who was speaking. Well I say glances, but the print was small and difficult to read in the dim light, and if it weren't for my trusty Solitaire Maglite, I'd be clueless to this day.

Even when I knew who the actors were supposed to be it was often hard to work out what they were doing. Neo Swee Lin and Esther Yap were credited as 'Mira' and 'Ariel (Min)' respectively but, considering their inane dialogue and perplexing behaviour, I had little idea what that meant. It wasn't in any way their fault: they managed to do whatever it was they were doing very well, and indeed, the majority of the cast gave committed, competent performances, whether they could be appreciated or not. One clear exception was the normally capable Sebastian Tan, whose mad-eyed, lurching Ferdinand was - I think - supposed to be a junkie. It's a credit to Singapore's anti-narcotics policies that he believes people on drugs behave like that.

Since Club Tempest used little of Shakespeare's dialogue or his plot, and since it didn't even approximate to any atmosphere conceivably associated with the original play, one wonders why they bothered with the Bard at all. Quite probably, the company had an interesting original story to tell - there's certainly room over here for a piece on big-business and cloning - but they found themselves constrained by the classic text and forced into a parasitic process by which they sought constantly to reinvent and reshape it but succeeded only in bleeding it of meaning.

Perhaps the most jarring misuse of Shakespeare was that the (no writer is credited in the programme, so I'll take a wild guess:) dramaturg felt it necessary to justify each and every usage of old Bill's original lines. Thus, after Prospero's initial speech (delivered on video and glossed into modern English inaccurately - intentionally? - by Haikel) we were informed, "Ladies and gentlemen, the words of William Shakespeare." And much, much less forgivably in one particularly shouty scene, we had the classic riposte: "You dare to throw Shakespeare back at me?!?" Well if I don't dare, it's rather silly for me to be in The Tempest, isn't it - 'Club' prefix or no. Such instances only served to underline the disparity between what the play was and what it could have been.

In this catalogue of disappointments, the saddest thing is that a group of talented people have made a consummate miscalculation. Perhaps they already knew. Indicating his doubts at the end of his director's message, Lim Kay Siu wrote, "I hope this production has some coherence by the time you see it." I regret to report the contrary.