>fugitives by dramabox

>reviewed by adi soon

>date: 29 nov 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: esplanade studio 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.
 

>>>>>A POINTLESS ESCAPE

It was a feeling of incompleteness that marred the otherwise excellent presentation.

We are all fugitives it seems, running away from one thing or the other. This was a play that dealt with a multitude of issues. Among them, Materialism, Lesbianism, Sense of Self, Personal Worth and above all in vivid focus, Inequalities arising from racial and religious foundations.

In the presentation of these modern day re-interpreted fugitives, there was really nothing to fault. It was sustained with a textural dialogue that had a familiar tune, suggesting the obvious attention to detail that the playwrights had in crafting it. It was the kind of dialogue one had heard before and in that sense it was tremendously satisfying to hear. Neither too was the pace ever draggy despite the fact that it could have been, considering the ambitious scope of topics covered.

Yet it turned out eventually that all this running away was only shown. And the play's final flaw was the lack of a possible solution to any of the problems presented. Leaving the show, a big question mark lingered. Why was this seemingly competently made play leaving me dissatisfied?

In some ways I was reminded of 'Causeway', playwright Alfian's Sa'at's contribution to this year's Arts Festival. It too dwelled on the racial angle and showed example after example of familiar situations but never really offering anything in the end by way of a solution or even a direction that we should trudge towards. Having said that, in terms of the dialogue, as in FUGITIVES, it was supremely well written and paced. In that department, I have nothing but praise.

>>'In terms of capturing the reality of these vignettes, the playwrights have succeeded… but where do we go from here? Maybe next time someone will tell me.'

Perhaps I am asking too much of the playwrights, perhaps their solution is not so much a solution, but an admittance that these problems are too much to solve through the medium of theatre, or perhaps are too big and beyond anybody's capabilities. Perhaps I could have discerned this through the character of Kok Ming, who realising the racist bent of his preconceptions, decides to embrace liberal ideas and take the path of challenging the system, yet in the end finds himself being chastised by his platoon mate for not being practical. In this sudden reversal, I was momentarily as confused as Kok Ming. After a time, I realised how overwhelmingly complex these arguments were. Considering this, it is easy to see how in the end, the playwrights chose to have Kok Ming and Zainal settle into a kind of comfortable co-existence, which really doesn't eliminate the problem nor suggest anything of a possible new way to do so.

The treatment of the other issues were handled similarly. For example, Mother's dilemma of her conversion to Christianity that clashes with the family's beliefs, or Daughter's, whose best female friend reveals romantic feelings for her, or that of Father and former employee, Samad, both sitting at opposite ends of the prosperity see-saw. It would have been interesting to offer solutions on how they might proceed. Unfortunately as said before, the only ending I could discern was a resigned sigh.

One thing that worked well was the strategy of having the play in Mandarin, English and Hokkien. That Mandarin was the dominant language in use mirrored the politics of the play's themes and also the composition of Singapore society as a whole. Intentionally or not, it further suggested the different viewpoints different people would take in accessing the same situation though one would have had to be in the majority (Chinese, presumably) to appreciate what some members of the audience clearly were not able to. It didn't help that the subtitled translation provided on the screen was rather stilted and did not give a complete sense of the spoken dialogue. Considering the composition of the audience that included some Malays, Indians and Caucasians, I wondered what kind of interpretation these groups would take away with them.

This one flaw however did not detract from the otherwise commendable performances given by all the actors. Their skill level ranged from good to outstanding, with nary a mediocre performance in sight. For this, credit surely must be given to the director for drawing out the intense characterisation that made each performance. Personally, I enjoyed the performances of Steven Woon as Grandfather, Chin Chong Hua as Father, Rosalan Mohd Daud as Samad, Mohammad Sani Hussin as Zainal and Lin Shi Yun as Daughter's friend. In that list I've already named half of the cast, which in itself, is an indication of the strong acting. Others will no doubt have their favourites among the other competent members of the cast. Steven Woon, especially managed to evoke much sympathy from his fragile performance that I almost wanted to run from the audience to help him.

In terms of capturing the reality of these vignettes, the playwrights have succeeded. But the clever arguments presented were perhaps a little too much considering the complexity of the issues involved. It would be nice to be relieved of this endless cycle of showing what's going on, and to be offered a probable direction towards something else.

So where do we go from here? Maybe next time someone will tell me.