>1 bed 3 pillows by action theatre (double bill 2)

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 8 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>rating: **1/2 & ***

>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.

>>>>LET'S GO TO BED THEN....

This is one evening that sees two very different fates of the bed. Where the bed becomes the focal point for Michael Corbidge's The Wish of the Clover, the bed in Jane Pek's Are You Afraid of the Dark is relegated to being more or less part of the bedroom setting.

Written as a monologue, The Wish of the Clover charts the history of an inherited bed through the perspective of a divorced woman, Liz. As the narrative and retrospective unfolds, the bed's hidden secrets and other meanings are revealed, whether it is a bed for birth, sex or death. While Corbidge writes with an elegant hand and is capable of some crisp, witty lines, his narrative movements still plod a rather tame trajectory and the structure of the characters' relationships do not venture far from familiar terrain. The negotiation of relationships through the trauma of creation and destruction, especially between that of Liz and her ex-husband Peter, could have been given a more unconventional handling, beyond sex (the lack of) and petty jealousies. In all senses of the word, it is a "well-made" bed (with clean laundry and straightened sheets) for a "well-made" play.

In the attempt to translate script to stage, the monologue still feels unstretched dramatically by the directors. If the bed's fixed and central orientation on stage is to be a reflection of its steadfast trustworthiness, its static and secure position then did not concomitantly reflect its own mobility through history. Stage spaces that were left unexplored by the centre heavy staging could have given the narrative more flow and momentum. More imaginative and adventurous directorial latitudes would have created a stronger visual impact. Sandy Phillips, who plays Liz, (and is co-director with Corbidge) gives a rather method-acting performance, and at times delivering a form of dramatised reading of the script, which falls short of what she can actually bring forth, given her range and technique. But that said, it is also her dramatic presence that gives the monologue its weight and definition.

>>'What is most disappointing about The Wish of the Clover is that it lacks the critical depth in its issues and has most things fall too neatly into place.'


But what is most disappointing about the play is that it lacks the critical depth in its issues and has most things fall too neatly into place. The play deals with issues of medical ethics, death and alternative sexualities but they mostly remain undeveloped and did not encompass the bigger scope it set out to mine. Issues fell by the wayside, as if washed out through time and history. The vicarious sexual experiments of Liz and her lesbian relationship with her bereavement counsellor Monica seem tacked on. If Corbidge had wanted the bed to be "a safe house for not such safe thoughts and wishes", the play proves to be a safe one as it did not provoke more social and political sentiments. Taking on a big theme like History and Memory, the monologue is still very much locked within personal and familial history, unwoven into the larger historical backdrop, and does not show ostensibly the frayed edges and incompleteness of histories. Given that Corbidge is taken with fantasies and magical elements, it is surprising that the play did not incorporate a greater level of metamorphosis, dreaming and mythopoesis. With a narrow spectrum of transformation, I kept waiting for it to morph into something more than the sexual body count at the end.

The second play, Are You Afraid of the Dark gives one more to chew on, partly because it is written with a mystery element. Of a macabre genre, Jane Pek takes stabs at our deep irrational fears and desires, and the skewed perspectives that adhere in our minds. Taking place between a married couple Matthew and June, an institutionalised friend Adam, and June's (non-physically present) sister Lina, Pek gives us Adam's own psychological disturbances and motivations, the couple's betrayal and guilt towards their aborted baby, the adultery committed by Lina and Matthew and the murder of Lina, all tenuously linked in a perplexing, fragmented plot. Because of the interchanging roles, the audience is left pondering about the real murderer of Lina, whether Adam is the madman or the therapist, or whether June is the unstable one concocting the entire version of the narrative. The dramatisation allows the audience multiple conclusions from the play.


Yet, I still find Pek's dramatic structure messy and at times unnecessarily convoluted and unwieldy. It is also a little difficult to find more plausible links for the incidental relationships between the characters. Her writing is still uneven and her scenes and lines are better composed when she steers clear of trying to be clever or too wordy. That said, I did not come out with a clear idea of what and where she is trying to get to or what she wants to say as the final upshot about dysfunctionality through this play. Also with such a disjointed piece of dramatic material, Sunita Mohinani's direction provides a less than smooth transition of scenes and her rather conventional staging is quite at odds with the off-centre writing. The play is also not quite held together by the uninspired acting from the cast. Whilst Jonathan Lim is competent in portraying the unsavoury and unhinged Adam, giving his lines with the exact wicked glint and Dick Su is suitably comfortable as the stressed out but straying Matthew, Carina Hales' acting as June is of a limited range and could not bring out the little emotional quivers and subtle undulations in the character. But put together, the cast failed to ignite any chemistry between themselves.

But perhaps my biggest grouse is still reserved for the strange inclusion of the SMS component within the plot. Ostensibly exogenous and potentially dispensable to the plot, the SMS element becomes an annoying frill that is not well integrated with the play. Contrary to expectations of a flow of interactive exchanges between the stage and the audience, only three SMSs are sent out during the play, with one having the audience choose the consequential movement of the play. As an alternative, unvoiced text or subtext, and as a participatory tool, the SMS function has been totally under-utilised, making the whole hype about the play go out with a whimper. The play could seriously have been better off without it.