>prospero's children by the srt's little company

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date:11 aug 2002
>time: 12pm
>venue: the 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.


>>>>>SIMPLICITY CAN BE MAGIC

I wasn't going to review it. I didn't have to review it. But after walking out of the theatre having been utterly spellbound for the last 90 minutes, I thought it would be churlish not to.

I had decided to bring my 14 year-old nephew to PROSPERO'S CHILDREN because he was back from Hong Kong on holiday and he had been studying 'Macbeth' there. I was a little hesitant about the show at first because it said "a play for everyone over the age of 7" which immediately made me think of board games where they put "for ages 3 and up" when really, they should say "for aged 3 and anyone who leads a truly sad and tragic life and has no friends or anything better to do". The picture of what looks like paper dolls on a beach and a little scuba-diver swimming across the sea which was on the poster did not help either.

But I had also been told that early audiences had said it was anything but twee and cutesy. In fact, they recommended that the show be marketed at Lower Secondary school pupils rather than those in primary school.

And they were right. My nephew enjoyed the show tremendously, not only in the sense of being entertained by the amount of play going on onstage, but also in terms of being presented with a story rich in ideas. While I do feel that, indeed, primary school children may find some parts of the play hard-going (and the little tykes walking up and down the aisle during the show were testimony to this) and Upper Secondary school students may find the work a little too "uncool", it is pitch-perfect for Lower Secondary students, and for adults who can look beyond the need for theatre to be all despair and melancholy, all bad words and bad lighting just to be hip and alternative.

This was a version of 'The Tempest' that was full of light and sparkle. It begins with the cast of six actors on a stage beautifully-designed as a beach. You hear waves in the background. The cast is singing. A beach ball is brought out. At one point, Christian J. Lee strums a tune on a guitar...

>>'"The Tempest" has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I have seen four productions of it - this one which did not aim so high flew the furthest. '


Robin Kingsland's script took the main themes of 'The Tempest' and distilled them and then, as if by magic, puffed them out again so that they appeared big and strong and as clear as a magic rainbow across the sky - and all the more powerful for it. His script takes the essence of the original text and fleshes it out rather than simply dumb it down. 'The Tempest' has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I have seen four productions of it, including the multiple-Life! Theatre Awards nominee 'Wayang Tempest' - this one which did not aim so high flew the furthest. Changes were made to the original text not simply for its own sake but to truly deepen our experience of the play.

I was especially intrigued, for example, by how director Guy Holland played with the motif of the Three Sisters and re-imagined Caliban and Ariel as Prospero's daughters-of-sort (by casting both roles as women) - so obvious an idea and here so skilfully handled. Together with sister Miranda, they are a triumvirate as complex and compelling as King Lear's triad of daughters or Cinderella's little family triangle that she forms with her two evil sisters. Prospero, the great God-like figure, here just a man, essentially just a father, is the centre of this family drama and all the rivalry, generation rifts and struggles for authority and independence that go with it.


I could go on about how the script cleverly uses a mix of actual Shakespearean English and modern English, or how Holland directs so deftly as to draw genuine laughter and tears from children and cynical theatre reviewer alike. I could rave about how the character of Caliban, in particular, took on lovely new dimensions, or how everything from light to sound was expertly handled and oh, how much I loved the way the cast used simple movements and their voices to create a percussionistic backbeat that underscored the drama and created mood so beautifully.

But instead, I will talk about the glory that is Chua Enlai. In a cast (including an a-little-bit-too-cutesy Adelina Ong as Miranda, a transformed and nearly unrecognisable Christian J Lee as Prospero and a erm, serene Serene Chen), that excelled, Enlai was particularly outstanding. Always a good actor who first impressed me in 'Lovepuke', he continued to do strong work in a variety of other plays, including 'Shopping and F***ing' and 'William Shakespeare's R+J'; here, he takes on two roles as Stefano and Antonio and is wildly different and good in both, an especially impressive feat since neither are at all similar to the outrageous, effeminate roles he was starting to get typecast in. Another highlight was Karen Tan who, again, has yet to disappoint, at least, in all the work I've seen her in. She played Caliban with heart and spirit and never lost her sense of character; you believed that she felt her role in a real part of herself and it wasn't just a shell that she had put on. Keagan Kang as Ferdinand was another great success. The juvenile romantic lead can be a role that's dull as dishwater but Keagan gave it a zesty swish and swirl; he has smoothed away the rough edges of earlier performances and now has a presence, confidence and timing onstage that is a pleasure to watch. That the play is blessed with such fine actors is the reason that even those who find the characterisation in the script a little too pat and neat will be drawn into the characters' stories.

Does it seem like I absolutely loved PROSPERO'S CHILDREN? If so, then, well, that's probably because I did. My only gripes? That not enough adults will have seen it, and that Adelina is a good actress but she really can't play a 14 year-old anymore. Even my nephew said that she acted like she was six but looked twenty and had lines that made her sound like she was a wise thirty year-old. He also feels that it was very confusing having Enlai play two parts.

So sort it out, Mr Holland! - or you'll be sent out to chop wood!

>The Little Company is an offshoot of The Singapore Repertory Theatre and targets 2 - 12 year olds. The company was formed in 2001. PROSPERO'S CHILDREN was produced by the company together with Quicksilver Theatre from the UK.