>>>>>GROPING DIFFERENT LAMENESSES
random words. Combine them in any way you like but make sure they sound
catchy. Print them on yellow postcards with an equally random picture
and leave them in the lobby at TNS. Phone several mad people and ask them
to "express themselves" for a couple of nights in the vicinity
of Marine Parade. Congratulations! You have successfully organised the
latest instalment of [names changed to protect the innocent].
No Sex. Just Sausages.
JUST SEX. was both an accurate and a misleading title for The small Theatre's
"sexth" production. There was indeed no plot; but then again
there was, strictly speaking, no sex - only outrageous innuendo as a young
brother and sister discussed, apparently innocently, the food that their
mother was cooking for them (literally: she had a hob and you could smell
the sizzling oil) and making them eat. Among the more obvious metaphors
were bananas, eggs, milk (and how it is obtained), and sausages. Less
clear were the scenes about porridge and pancakes, but I daresay those
with particularly twisted minds were able to glean some sort of double
And who needs a plot when you're so very funny? The children's conversations
were often repetitive and circular, but writer Kevin Poh showed some awareness
of how to use such traits to his comedic advantage. The actors also got
great mileage from their lines, particularly the evil older sister, Elaine
Ang, who psychotically stretched out some words to ludicrous lengths and
bitchily bit off others. But when you're watching an out and out comedy,
there is always the very kia su temptation to measure it in laughs
per minute and work out whether you got your money's worth, and unfortunately
NPJS was a couple of giggles down on the hourly average. The laughs were
there to be had and they were big ones, but there was a bit too much filler
There is always danger in attending a [names changed] performance, and
in previous shows I have been flashed, ordered around, manipulated, frozen
into a tableau, turned into a toilet, and even, in one extreme case, infested.
Tonight was no exception. This time I had the pleasure of having a red
bag forced over my head while being offered alphabet cereal by a similarly
hooded guy with a noose round his neck. I suppose I didn't particularly
mind (although they might have been a bit more careful not to drive my
specs into the bridge of my nose) but I did wonder why they bothered to
do it at all. Granted: the play was absurd, but for the most part it
was a moderate and largely verbal form of absurdity. Full-blown silliness
of the hood, noose and cereal variety was confined largely to the intermezzos
where it seemed out of place, adding nothing to the main action of the
play that it interrupted and, in any case, taking rather too long.
More successful surreal touches included the mother's speaking in two
voices not quite simultaneously (one was live, the other recorded) and
the placement of scrolling LED displays around the stage which flashed
out pornographic messages while the kids ate their breakfast.
NO PLOT. JUST SEX. was apparently written and put on rather quickly (as
is the [names changed] way) and this showed in the occasional flubbed
line and spilt milk, but it mainly showed in a script that came across
as a first draft. It's a good first draft, however, and I hope the company
will return to give it a fuller treatment after working out what to discard,
what to tighten up and what to leave exactly as it is.
seems to be a worrying trend among some of those who claim to be experimental
to become part of the "I wanted to know what your reaction would
be if I just sat here and didn't do anything" brigade. Can't they
Sounds and Furry
In such semi-improvised
affairs as Susie Lingham's HOW TO CONSTRUCT A VALVE ON INTENSITY?, intention
and result are often not the best of friends. The stated aim was to create
"a 'listening space' [where] 'visuals' will be kept to a minimum."
Quite apart from the 'superfluous' inverted 'commas', this was not how
the piece turned out, though that wasn't entirely to its detriment. Rizman
Putra Ahmad Ali proved to possess a bizarre magnetism as he danced - I
use the word loosely - to the vibes Lingham and Aaron Kao were knocking
out on the piano and drums respectively. It was impossible not to engage
with him as he gurned*, pranced and juddered in the mother of all afro
wigs, and he certainly seemed to like and command the limelight - so much
so that for those of us who are synaesthetically challenged, his performance
detracted from the sounds. Indeed, the only time I felt I could fully
appreciate the "soundscape" Lingham had intended was when he
left the auditorium and went, bug mike still receiving, to the toilet.
More of a problem was that the respective aural ingredients hadn't been
balanced correctly. And whereas it didn't matter so much that the piano
got buried under the drums (indeed, in the feedback session, at least
one person said he liked the effect) it mattered quite considerably that
the vocals were often inaudible. Apart from a pseudo refrain about karma,
for which all three voices were singing, Lingham's words got pretty much
lost in the melee, with only the occasional poetic-sounding syllable breaking
through - and for a piece supposedly "constructed around 'text'"
that can't be a good thing.
Nonetheless, the performance managed to retain a sense of focus and, while
one might argue that repetition was used more than was strictly necessary,
it refused to be boring and plainly knew where it was tyring to go.
Which, at some points, was more than I did. An arresting facet of Lingham's
work is how it perches disconcertingly on the fence between earnestness
and bathos, so that you can't be wholly sure whether it's supposed to
funny and you're afraid to laugh in case it's not. This is an interesting
line to tread and one which all three performers explored proficiently.
And with a little tweaking of the amps and a bit more jamming practice,
they should get even better.
while I quote what Gabriel Flain, the creator of the third piece, LOS
DURMIENTES, wrote in the programme:
"If God for an instance would forget that we are cloth marionettes
and would give us a piece of life, possibly we would not say all that
we think, but we would definitely think all that we say. We would give
value to all things, and not for what they are worth, but for what they
mean. If God would give us a piece of life, we would dress simply, throw
ourselves face-down, leaving bare not only our bodies but our souls
So now you know.
Of course, this wasn't what the subsequent piece of video art showed at
all. There was nary a god-fearing puppet in sight, and instead we got
a foreigner's view of Singapore created with all the workaday tricks of
the video artist: scenes from moving vehicles, scenes of moving vehicles,
fixated close-ups, etc., all accompanied by a jingle-jangle ambient soundtrack.
Along with all these trieds and testeds, there were, however, one or two
more interesting moments. The opening vignette showed a baby playing with
a $2 note, rolling it over and over in his chubby little hands. In itself,
such casual obsessiveness was fascinating, but far more striking was the
look of discovered guilt (or at least that's my interpretation) in the
baby's eyes as it caught sight of the camera and stopped what it was doing.
And I guess this scene accounts, however tenuously, for the "We would
give value to all things" bit from the quote above, just as the lingering
shots of sleeping commuters account for the bit about "cloth marionettes".
And yet I resist. The programme text is so high-flown and the video footage
itself so mundane that they seem largely irreconcilable, and only the
most arbitrary leaps of the imagination (as above) can hope to connect
them even superficially. I suppose it's a kind of puzzle: "Why is
a raven like a writing desk?" asked the Mad Hatter. Well, largely
it isn't, but as a ploy to make this rather dull video more thought provoking,
I suppose the text had its uses.
And then to finish, the camera was trained on us, the audience. The first
time someone did this in distant antiquity it may have caused quite a
stir, but it's a whole other millennium now and such antics just don't
cut the camembert any more. And even if it were original, what would it
achieve? There seems to be a worrying trend among some of those who claim
to be experimental to become part of the "I wanted to know what your
reaction would be if I just sat here and didn't do anything" brigade.
Can't they guess? We'll all sit here too, feeling very mildly uncomfortable,
and if they persist for long enough, we will leave. Thus it was with the
camera on us, although it was turned off and the lights went up before
anyone actually went home. Now, I can understand the point of an artist
forcing his audience to face unpleasant truths, of confronting them with
the sordid realities of human existence; but why anyone would want to
provoke such an insipid and predictable emotion as mild discomfort is
quite beyond me. I can get it at home watching 'Under One Roof'.
*This is a Northern English dialect word that describes the activities
of people (generally senior citizens) who attempt to swallow their foreheads
with their lower lips. I jest not.