>SHOPPING AND F***ING by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

>reviewed by Eugene Tan

>date: 12 jan 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the toy factory theatrette
>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.
 

>>>>>THINGS TO DO IN CHINATOWN

Sometimes, a play hits you between the eyes, somewhere between the left eyebrow, the right eyebrow, the nose bridge and the bindi. Sometimes, a play doesn't, and nobody ever really knows why. SHOPPING & F***ING was a bit like that.

Okay, so actually it's my job to tell you why, so I'll try, but no promises.

Briefly, the play is about money, transactions, shopping and f***ing the things you buy, or maybe f***ing up the things you buy, or maybe a bit of both.

In the hands of Beatrice Chia, here making her directorial debut, the play was allowed to exist without unnecessary intrusion and over the top directorial decisions, in other words, she let the play live its own life in its own world.

And what a world it is, peopled by Mark Richmond as Mark, Adelina Ong as Lulu, Christian Lee as Robbie, Benjamin Ng as Brian and Chua Enlai as Gary. The cast, all young and powerfully physical and energetic, brought to life a world of druggies, rent boys and other such underbelly sorts in London, crawling out to be seen, and hopefully understood, by an audience of largely comfortable Singaporeans.

Mark is trying to kick a dependence on heroin; Robbie and Lulu are emotionally dependent on Mark; Lulu is dependent on Brian for a job; and Gary, we're never sure if he is dependent or is depended upon. All these power relationships are underlined by a consistent theme of money, the power that money buys you, and the power to give that power away.

>>'In the hands of Beatrice Chia, here making her directorial debut, the play was allowed to exist without unnecessary intrusion and over the top directorial decisions'

Which all makes for intriguing stuff, but the performance is marked by too many inconsistencies, which kind of stopped me from totally suspending disbelief. For a start, the play, being set in London, left some actors struggling with accents. Perhaps it was not a case of actors assuming accents as much as it was just the rhythms of the text, but notably, Mark Richmond did swing wildly between sounding like Mark the former druggie and that Triple Nine character he used to play. If he just played it with his own voice, the problem might have been averted, but for me at least, the way it worked in the performance I attended was a problem.

Next came inconsistencies in action. Sometimes it was brazen, surprising even for an R(A) rated play. Other times it seemed to land somewhere in Secondary school "Drama Nite" type prudishness. While we had a full on scene of Mark licking Gary's bare butt we also had Gary turn his back on the audience every time they kissed. To be fair though, reliable sources speak of this having been a demand by that undefined NAC/PELU institution known to preview shows for audience sensitivities.

The set too, suffered from the same problem of inconsistencies. While the idea of installing three ramps from which actors came crawling out was excellent, giving the characters a certain "undergroundness", the rest of the set was pretty at best. Chairs standing on the walls, a fan in front of lights, coloured mineral water bottle lights hanging outside three windows, were all nice to look at, but otherwise seemingly totally meaningless. The lighting in the show also had the same problem of being quite pretty, but often times not doing much by way of setting mood or imbuing scenes with a sense of space. True, there were technical problems the night I was there, but still, they did not seem to be the sort that would prevent the audience from having some idea of what the intention of the lighting designer was, and frankly, I'm still not sure what that great intention was.

Inconsistencies aside, I must say that I am impressed with the cast and indeed the director of the piece. It chugged along at a pace that gave you time to take things in, but never ended up being slow or boring. The actors seemed to be totally in tune with each other, such that even entrances and exits from under different ramps were synchronised. Actors seemed to be in tune in other ways too, picking up off each other's lines almost like a single organic piece.

The relationships of power were also most interesting in the way they were fleshed out on stage. Most of the time, except where obviously intended, one was aware of who was in power and who was the subjugated.

Perhaps because of this Chua Enlai could be said to have stolen the show. Because where everyone else was clearly defined from the point they crawled out onto stage, his character was one that was left deliberately ambiguous. And as an actor, he filled that in more than competently, such that each of his little hip movements and butt jiggles seemed at once second nature and coldly calculated for maximum impact.

Not that the rest of the cast was any less impressive. Adelina Ong, always a joy to watch, was hilarious yet touching as Lulu who tries desperately to hold everything together for everybody. Christian Lee's Robbie had a certain touching vulnerability that erupted into a quite violent burst at the end.

Pity then those inconsistencies. But then that is a bit like shopping and f***ing anyway.