>the second 42 theatre festival (week three) by action theatre

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 1 dec 2001
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>rating: not rated

>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 flyer for this festival screams, "It's fresh! It's invigorating!" Rather like a new formula of washing powder, then, or perhaps an isotonic drink. For those of you who've missed the hype, the idea is that new works and
talents are showcased each week "amidst the resort setting of 42 Waterloo Street" (ACTION Theatre really needs to hire a new copywriter).

Not that I usually have a problem with a little artistic roughness in the pursuit of a fresh and invigorating experience - but I do expect "new talents" to at least possess some talent. The evening got off to a bad start
with Alvin Fong, novice stand-up comedian, who failed to elicit even a titter from a more-than-willing audience and seemed worryingly uncomfortable with his material, considering he'd written it himself.

Next up were Grace Ng, whose thin voice wasn't quite up to coping with her selection from 'Ragtime', and James Seow, with Desmond Sim's 'Teochew Porridge'. Seow was actually quite promising, but let down by his
over-emphatic speech rhythms, which made him sound like someone delivering a monologue in a secondary school play. The paucity of his material didn't help, Sim not being the world's greatest playwright
("How can I get into pre-university with these grades? I'm going to be the menial worker all my teachers said I would be if I didn't study hard!").

New directing talent was represented by Candice de Rozario, with 'I Didn't Know You Could Cook', a witty script by Rich Orloff about a disabled gay man. Sadly de Rozario was burdened with David Leong, an actor who could cope with neither the humour nor the rhythms of the lines, and for that matter had trouble pronouncing words such as 'finesse' or 'Episcopalian'. Her direction was basically competent, but failed to convince - in the climatic conflict, she had her actors politely reciting their lines one after another, instead of overlapping and interrupting as people do in real arguments.

>>'I do have a problem with theatre companies charging $38 for a show when many of its constituent items are not up to performance standard.'

The saving grace of the evening was 'Plunge', a new play by 'Life!' Theatre Award nominee Jean Tay. A sophisticated script was set off by Krishen Jit's direction, and an ensemble cast including Mark Richmond and Beatrice Chia. 'Plunge' featured Emma Yong in the twin roles of Isabel, a newscaster coolly reciting facts and figures relating to the 1997 Asian
Economic Crisis, and Ina, an Indonesian student directly affected by these events.

Tay's writing is muscular, interleaving a brutal reminder of how politics
can cause havoc in ordinary lives with remarkable imagery of the terrors
hidden in the urban landscape. More than that, she lifts her text beyond the merely topical, taking as her theme the cruelty and bravery human beings are capable of when pushed to extremes.

There were rough edges - Yong's Indonesian accent kept slipping, and the script never does make clear the relationship between Ina and Isabel. For a first draft, though, 'Plunge' is a remarkable achievement and deserves to be given a full production very soon.

'Poetry in Action!' consisted of a dramatised selection of local poems. Some of this was quite moving, including video footage of displaced Filipino maids as a backdrop to Leong Liew Geok's 'Farewell to Sumana' and the eerily
effective 'What They Talk About in the Bedroom When The Children Are Fast Asleep' by Alfian Bin Sa'at. Jonathan Lim's direction was effective, and it was an intelligent decision to have Lim Yi Sheng's 'A Loud Poem To Be Read Aloud To A Very Obliging Audience' running through the entire performance, giving it coherence. The cast, however, were merely adequate (with the exception of the sparkling Haslynda Dahlan) and often failed to enunciate.

The evening tailed off with 'Cocktail Cabaret' featuring Robin Goh, "a heart-wrenching journey through a collection of theatrically beautiful numbers" (that copywriter again). Goh has a nice enough voice, but slowed
down the tempo of each song unbearably - the effect was like wading through treacle. And someone tell the man that you bring out the emotions in songs through the words, not by gurning at the funny lines and grimacing at the sad bits.

Week Three of THE SECOND 42 THEATRE FESTIVAL was quite a mixed bag, admittedly as advertised. I applaud the intention of Action Theatre in grooming new talent, but I do have a problem with theatre companies charging $38 for a show when many of its constituent items are not up to performance standard (Alvin Fong, Grace Ng) or simply painful (Robin Goh). Apart from 'Plunge', which alone was worth the price of admission, and 'Poetry in Action', this evening was disappointing. Roll on week four...