>the white road by the singapore repertory theatre young company

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 19 jul 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>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.


British fantasist Neil Gaiman has worked in a range of media - novels, short stories, graphic novels and television - but has not, to my knowledge, found an existence on stage. The Singapore Repertory Theatre Young Company are now making good this lack with their adaptation THE WHITE ROAD, which will enjoy a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after playing at the DBS Auditorium here.

The evening gets off to an uncertain start with a short excursion into another of Gaiman's works, 'The Dream Hunters'. Sadly the company has chosen to excise all but the bare bones of the plot, making it hard to see why they included this segment at all. In his story Gaiman, abetted by Yoshitaka Amano's haunting illustrations, described in vivid detail the nightmare landscapes travelled by his protagonist; on stage, we are only told that he suffers from "bad dreams".The play only gets into its stride when it embarks upon "The White Road" proper, a dark tale on the cauchemarish edge of fairy tales. Diana Natalie puts in a fluid, intense performance as the narrator, even if she does occasionally flub her lines, and one hopes she will learn to pronounce the word 'tethered' correctly.

For the most part, the company puts in a slick, polished performance with some remarkable ensemble work. They are completely in sync with each other, and their movements are clearly thought-out and well-rehearsed. The inexperience of the actors shows, however, in their improvised responses - would a medieval girl say "Yeah!" as a sign of approbation?

>>‘Gaiman's sensibility is evident in this work, with its blend of deconstructed fairy tales imbued with a more primal, dangerous edge. What is missing is his voice, with its wry, gentle humour.'

Individually the young company is less impressive. They all speak with
enviable clarity, but have trouble projecting any sense of character - they say the lines well, but do not seem to have thought through the
personalities motivating them. The only stand-out performances come from Christie Chua as a fox spirit, and Marianne Tan as a terrified Bluebeard's wife.

The production values of the company are near flawless. Costumes - blood-red sashes on earth tones - were simple and effective. Lighting and sound were used to good effect, but not intrusive. Most impressive of all was the reliance of the cast on good acting rather than flashy effects, a trap too many 'multi-media' performances fall into.

The Achilles' heel of this production is its script. There is no playwright credited, which is always a bad sign. The lines betray their prose origins with far too much narration - do we need someone to be saying things like "She sits" or "Says my father-in-law" when we can see them happening before us?

Gaiman's sensibility is evident in this work, with its blend of deconstructed fairy tales imbued with a more primal, dangerous edge. What is missing is his voice, with its wry, gentle humour. The sustained intensity of the performers is at first enthralling and then draining; leavening the gloom with a touch of Gaiman's compassionate wit could have made this production soar.

Still. The professionalism and commitment on display this evening were admirable, although a tighter script and more emphasis on character-work would have been nice. Overall THE WHITE ROAD is a major accomplishment for a company who are all under twenty-four, and an impressive attempt at capturing an elusive writer on stage.