>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 13 mar 2001
>time: 3pm
>venue: the fort canning 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.


LEST THE DEMONS GET TO ME, Russell Heng's exploration of the conflict between duty and desire in a Bugis Street transvestite, is likely to become a canonical work in the corpus of Singaporean theatre. And from now on, any mention of it will have to take into account what took place last Sunday at the Black Box on Fort Canning Hill. For although rough and unprofessional in many ways, this reprise of a 1992 TheatreWorks classic created new meanings and possibilities for Heng's script, proving the continued relevance of its issues as well as the ability of theatre to move and profoundly affect.

But first a note on the plot: K.C. is the renegade only son of a traditional Chinese family who has dropped out of an LSE degree course to work the Bugis Street circuit. A series of dramatic monologues interspersed with exchanges with a lover, friend, landlady and sister (whose voices all come from off) depict the contradictions in K.C.'s life as a self-confessed "Ah Kua". Things come to a head when the decision to take the plunge and go for a sex change operation coincides with her father's death, and the issues of duty, rightness and honesty force themselves as never before upon her consciousness.

>>'Although as a production LEST THE DEMONS left much to be desired, the overall effect of the play was deeply moving'

Now how Jeremiah Choy (who here reprises his role as K.C. while at the same time sharing directing duties with Tang Fu Kuen) has decided to stage Heng's extremely powerful play bears some close examination. For moving as it was, roughness and lack of polish were the most salient features of much of the play. Stage properties were minimal (although what there was on stage was a pleasant throw-back to the sixties or seventies) and the actors uncostumed for the most part. More importantly, however, was the fact that both Choy and Khoo Kah Bee (providing the voices for K.C.'s lover, friend, landlady and sister) read their lines off hand-held scripts - Choy on a chair in the middle of the stage, and Khoo ensconced in the corner with all the apparatus of the backstage around him (stereo player, fiddly control panel, mike, script).

As it turned out however, the show was in fact a pastiche of dramatic modes - apart from reading his lines, Choy also acted out a good deal of K.C.'s dramatic monologues. Khoo, who remained onstage for the entire performance, was by turns sound technician (he plays the CDs), prompter (he calls out page numbers to Choy), director (he informs us of the stage directions), as well as of course the voices for all the other characters. In the penultimate scene when K.C. is pushed to a fight with his sister over their father's funeral (to go as a son or as a daughter?) we are shown a rather draggy video clip from the original production, a lavish affair that contrasted starkly with the minimalist, rehearsal feel of the current production.

Although as a production LEST THE DEMONS left much to be desired (the pastiche mode seemed downright odd on occasion, K.C.'s "monthly farce" became a "monthly fast", lighting changes were not up to speed), the overall effect of the play was deeply moving. It says a lot that although K.C.'s lines were occasionally muffed up and the phone conversations with his lover weren't convincing as phone conversations go, Choy played his character with great sensitivity, control and poignance.

Khoo's voice too had remarkably chameleon-like qualities but more significantly, the ambivalence of his position within the play allowed him to become K.C.'s inner consciousness in a number of very well executed scenes. When K.C. rebels against injunctions to attend his father's funeral as a man, for example, Khoo's voice as first K.C. sister and then K.C. himself merged with Choy's own when the latter is told, in a particularly haunting refrain, to "do it for father". The choice of Satie's Gymnopedie as a leitmotif for the play also did much to underline the tearing feelings of loss and longing that informed it as a whole.

What shall we say then? That LEST THE DEMONS left much to be desired as a theatrical production, but that it also took Heng's script on to a different plane. For that, it must deserve a place in the annals of Singaporean theatre.