>O by Theatre Ox

>reviewed by eugene tan

>date: 2 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: LASALLE-sia studio 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.


Some plays get straight to the point. Others take a little while, but get there eventually, pissing you off in the process. O by Theatre Ox exists quite happily on that periphery without attempting to plug the hole in the middle.

As we entered the black box space of the LASALLE-SIA Studio Theatre, a bright white light blinded us from the left. But as we walked away from it, we were blinded by bright yellow lights coming straight into our faces. Turn the corner and we were facing our seats. A voice in the darkness was chanting something or other. In many ways, this pretty much described the entire hour-long presentation that was O.

It is not that the show was muddled in the way some shows which never seem to know what they are trying to say are. Rather, it was that many of the sequences in the show were visually very arresting, and then they would be followed by a scene that was also very visually arresting, but together, they did not seem to mean anything.

>>'The show had actually managed to reach the point of being quite magical'

This was a huge problem that I had with the performance when I first saw it in rehearsal some time ago. This time though, it stopped being a problem because I made one big decision, and that was to stop attempting to make sense of the piece. Yes, it does sound like a cop out to say so, but really, it isn't. It reminds me of the time I saw 'Natural Born Killers' by Oliver Stone. The first time I saw it, I was in school studying media, and so I tried to intellectualise the movie, which left me entirely confused. But I saw the same movie again, a year later and came out of it feeling angry, not at the movie, not at anybody in particular, just angry.

O was a bit like that for me. The scenes just seem to push certain buttons, awakening certain memories, eliciting certain emotions. Try to make sense of it and it was just two women speaking badly enunciated English and singing songs in various Chinese dialects while variously writhing and contorting and jumping around on stage.

Essentially though, the show is about balancing the desires for spirituality and worldly passions. And so we had various re-enactments of worldly passion and material consciousness, interspersed with chanting, singing and the like. So while the play never really makes its point, as a whole, you get a sense of what its makers are trying to say. There is no one part that completely explains the whole piece, no big moment that summarises the entire performance. Which sounds like the audience has to work very hard, but really we don't, because the need to wrap your brain around an intellectual exercise has been taken away. This coupled with a text as rich as the one used in O, along with lighting design that really did lift the play out of appearing like a rehearsal and a very effective piece of theatre was created.

I have seen this show three times, once at an open rehearsal, once at the Substation as a work in progress and this time in LASALLE. Over the course of four to five months, I have seen the show change and improve. I thought that this presentation was the one that made the largest impact on me, strange considering I was already familiar with its content, and it certainly was not only because of the decision that I had made this time not to intellectualise the work. Rather, I suspect that this time, the show had actually managed to reach the point of being quite magical.