>100 years in waiting by the necessary stage and the theatre practice

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date:9 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>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.
 

>>>>>we'll always have penang

You've read the hype by now -- the story of the woman that history forgot and all the rest of it -- Sun Yat Sen being the sort of figure that automatically generates a certain amount of press coverage. ONE HUNDRED YEARS IN WAITING offers an account of Chen Cui Fen, the mistress of the revolutionary leader before he ditched both her and his first wife for Soong Ching Ling.

The companies involved state the problem with this production with admirable economy: 'It isn't the most efficient way to write a play when there are three playwrights. It isn't also perhaps the best way to direct a play with two directors.' Well, duh. Unfortunately, the programme notes fail to go on to explain why, then, they went on with this foolhardy plan to create theatre-by-committee.

>>'ONE HUNDRED YEARS IN WAITING is a patchwork creature. The writing lurches from the moving to the painful, the direction ranges from realistic to stylised. Perhaps a single director and playwright could have lent a more unified vision to this production, instead of turning the powerful story of an unusual woman into a diffused 'multimedia' non-event.'

Perhaps uncertain of their material, the playwrights have chosen to present the story in a series of vignettes, cemented together with a framing narrative involving a thick-beyond-belief actor, Jason (Gerald Chew), who is cast as Sun in a film, despite believing him to be a kung-fu hero. Like a movie, which is not usually filmed sequentially, the play leaps between time frames, so the actors have to keep telling us what year it is ("It's New Year's Eve 1899. The last day of the century!").

The director of the film (whose name is, apparently, 'Director') is painted crudely as one of those executives you imagine were behind the shooting of 'Saving Private Ryan'. He says things like "History is boring. You need to dress it up with some entertainment" and "Just act lah! Is it so difficult?"

But it is just this sort of hatchet job on history that the play performs. As in 'Pearl Harbor', the facts become a pallid backdrop to a love story. We are given little real idea of just what revolutionary ideals Sun holds (he tells Cui Fen during a ball that he wants to change China "so that we can dance every day"). Some potted history is fed to us via newsreels played on the TV screens that litter the set, but these hardly refer to Sun, and fail to show any kind of link between his private and public life.

In an attempt to create meaning, the action is complicated by a chorus of eleven white-clad actors who lurk around the stage, reciting meaningless slogans like "What time is it?" or "Revolution of the Heart!" They are intrusive, and many have bad diction. Not one member of the cast, incidentally, seems capable of pronouncing the word 'dynasty' correctly.

Also annoying is the way Mrs Sun (Goh Guat Kian) speaks in Mandarin, while the rest of the characters, including the peasant servant Ah Ho, use English. This is particularly jarring when Mrs Sun has a conversation with anyone else on stage, her Chinese alternating with their English. If some kind of point was being made, it passed us by completely.

When we first see Cui Fen, she is in Sun's villa in Penang, where she spent her last years. Towards the end of the play, however, she keeps saying, "It's 2001" and "I've been waiting for one hundred years", which raises all kinds of metaphysical questions. What time is it, actually? 1925, the year of Sun's death? Now? And where exactly is she "waiting", purgatory? The production never makes this clear, preferring to take the easy way out by locating her in some kind of limbo outside history.

In the end ONE HUNDRED YEARS represents a criminal waste of talent. Jean Ng turns in a sterling performance as Cui Fen, and is well-supported by Goh Guat Kian as Mrs Sun and Jalyn Han as Ah Ho. The playwrights involved are the award-winning Haresh Sharma, Chong Tze Chien and Kuo Pao Kun. And while individual scenes are well-crafted and shine in performance, they are quickly undermined by the lack of structure that weakens the whole. In the end this play is undone by its refusal to state any kind of opinion. It rarely strays from verifiable fact which, given that we hardly know anything about Chen Cui Fen, turns her into an enigma. Her relationship with Sun is barely fleshed-out, and their work together summed up in a single risible scene in which she teaches him how to arm a bomb. The sense of squandered dramatic potential is palpable.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS IN WAITING is a patchwork creature. The writing lurches from the moving to the painful, the direction ranges from realistic to stylised. Perhaps a single director and playwright could have lent a more unified vision to this production, instead of turning the powerful story of an unusual woman into a diffused 'multimedia' non-event. Cui Fen complains often in the play that she feels she has been waiting a hundred years only for nothing to happen; we the audience felt much the same way.