>cloud nine by drama box
>reviewed by fong liling
CLOUD NINE was based on the same-titled play by prolific feminist playwright, Caryl Churchill (who also wrote the recently staged 'Top Girls'). Translated by local playwright Quah Sy Ren into Mandarin and further adapted by Kok Heng Luen (who also directed this piece), Drama Box's version of this highly satirical piece follows the award-winning original closely, up to its songs. Basically, the production was a direct translation of the initial piece, only different in the setting.
Gordon Tay plays Wang Zhiyuan, a patriarch of a well-to-do Chinese family displaced in colonial Singapore. In fulfilling the demands of his British master, he oppresses his own household and the natives while struggling to stay connected to his ancestral roots. He imposes on his family his ideals and values in order that they keep up appearances - He tells his wife, Yumei (Danny Yeo, 'Fugitives'), how she should behave as a woman, he tells his son, Yongqing, (Li Xie, 'White Songs') how to behave as a man, and even his Malay manservant, Ahmad (Ng Wei Min), how to be a Chinese. His daughter, Huiqing, is merely a stuffed doll he throws around, signifying how girls at the time were not respected or taken seriously. Tay's speech was immaculate, and his portrayal of a strict, no-nonsense head of the family was striking. He possessed a great amount of stage presence playing the man of the family; his movements always sharp and clear.
>>'After a while, you stop feeling embarrassed about what they are doing onstage and get swept away by it!'
As Act One unfolds, the audience slowly realizes that the supposed boundaries of sexuality are getting hazy. Zhiyuan, who appears to be an all righteous man, has an affair with the widowed Mrs Situ (Jean Ng, 'Squeeze And Squeezability'). Zhang Liguo (Ray Lee), Zhiyuan's good friend and an eligible bachelor, really prefers men. He has been briefly involved with Yongqing, is sought after by Yumei, and engages in some hanky-panky with Ahmad while in the Wang residence. Xiao Cui confesses her love for her mistress. These lustful and bizarre relationships are revealed promptly, one after another, leaving the audience with no time to stop and think about what they have just seen. The images and dialogue of how this oppressed family strives to keep up with appearances are fiercely comical and instructive. They keep bombarding you to the extent that after a while, you stop feeling embarrassed about what they are doing onstage and get swept away by it.
Danny Yeo and Li Xie exchange roles, in a beautiful transition where Li hands Yeo the doll that Yongqing used to play with and Yeo puts on for Li the necklace Yongqing was 'safekeeping' for his mother in the previous act. Here, new characters like Yongqing's lover, Gerry (Ng Wei Min, Ahmad), Yongqing's younger sister, Huiqing (Low Kah Wei, Yumei's mother), Huiqing's husband, Martin (Ray Lee, Zhang Liguo), and Lin (Jean Ng, Mrs Situ/Xiao Cui), Huiqing's lover, are introduced. The characters' relationships are as interwoven as in the previous act, while the language is definitely more straightforward. Playwright Quah Sy Ren actually kept a considerable amount of Churchill's original dialogue in this translated version which also included Hokkien and Teochew - not forgetting the expletives. Indeed, the dialect did add a local touch and a different comic element to the play, but the English bits and certain direct translations sounded a tad unnatural and exaggerated at times. It made me wonder if Singaporeans today really talk about their sexual experiences so openly? And where does the playwright draw the line when translating texts?
While Act One was all clear, straight lines with a yellow flag imprinted with a dragon in the middle of a British flag, Act Two was a complete contrast. It was set in a park, and the sides of the stage were covered with dried leaves that looked yellow in the light, a la 'Hero'. This act was also slightly more light-hearted due to its language. Hearing the actors spout vulgarities as if it was second nature was definitely what drew the audience closer to the characters. Jean Ng and Gordon Tay (who played Peipei, Lin's daughter, and a soldier) both put in a commendable effort. In fact, both their performances in this act were the most memorable. The tall and lanky Tay played a little girl like a natural - his short monologue in Teochew when he was a soldier brought the house down even though I only caught the gist of it, and Ng was just purely funny. The actors generally did well, except for the orgy scene involving Yongqing, Huiqing, Lin and Martin. Other than Ng, the rest of the actors looked as if they were under torture. Oh well. I understand scenes like that ain't a piece of cake.
was a success primarily due to the fact that a good script was chosen.
Churchill's well-crafted piece was already entertaining and purposeful
in itself, dealing with issues of gender politics, social roles and identity.
In the midst of exploring these issues, a big orgasmic mess is created,
leaving the audience weak with laughter. I am sure all who went to watch
CLOUD NINE found their imaginations unlocked and their minds set free.
Then again, are we laughing (blindly) at what we see onstage because we
ourselves are somewhat like the characters, oppressed? Or are we so taken
aback by their behaviour we do not know how to react except by laughing?