>confessions of three unmarried women by action theatre

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 16 feb 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: *

>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.


>>>>>BETTER LEFT ON THE SHELF

ACTION Theatre has been serving up mainstream theatre fare for the masses for a while now and while it is easy to use the company as a butt of jokes for doing so, the fact is that it does what it does well and its efforts have opened up the world of theatre to an audience which may otherwise have never ventured into the Jubilee Hall or Victoria Theatre. There is no shame in churning out the equivalent of Hollywood-style crowd-pleasers to our local audiences if these have high production values ('Chang & Eng') or are still underscored by a certain amount of sophistication and intelligence that gives the production substance ('Proof') or indeed, some spice ('Autumn Tomyam').

Sadly, CONFESSIONS OF THREE UNMARRIED WOMEN had none of the above.

Sure, it starts promisingly enough with director Selena Tan's stand-up comedy routine, which is used as a prologue to the play. In that first five minutes, we have ACTION doing its thing - okay, so it's hardly going to make a sailor blush but the humour is just risqué enough to give the material an edge yet it remains the sort of thing that wouldn't be out of place at a dinner with some Minister as the Guest of Honour.

Unfortunately, it is downhill all the way after that. Aside from the rather interesting multi-purpose central set piece towering over the stage, nothing about the production from the acting to the script to the direction had any degree of sophistication or innovation whatsoever. It was completely by-the-numbers, mass-market fare aiming for the lowest common denominator, the Barney of local theatre.

>>'Quite honestly, the whole shebang was a right mess. If the play were one of the unmarried women of the title, it would a bad date trying much too hard in bad make-up and a tacky dress.'


Watching it, I honestly felt affronted by the utter lack of intelligence in the script. Everything was spelled out for the audience, telegraphed a mile away and, worst of all, contrived to milk laughter at every possible moment or push the narrative along, to the point that the characters made absolutely no sense after a while. We're not just talking here about characters becoming caricatures because even caricatures are consistent. In a group of long-time best girl friends, if one of them gets married, is there any reason that the rest would point-blank refuse to be a bridesmaid when asked, especially if they are going to be in the wedding party anyway? Even if they didn't believe in marriage, surely they'd still just do it out of love for their friend. And then we have Amy Cheng's character who is portrayed as uptight, super-religious and conservative but then in five seconds, thanks to a change in lighting and music, suddenly decides to throw away all her inhibitions and dance around in a garter belt and corset for a porn site.

Am I being too harsh to what was just a feel-good, mindless piece of fluff? After all, the audience did seem to enjoy it, laughing at many points. And it was being produced as part of the Romancing Singapore campaign; if you've seen the TV ads with the likes of James Wong, Pierre Png and Andrea de Cruz, you'd hardly expect this to be 'Talaq'.


But, you see, what upsets me is that people think that just because something is supposed to be mainstream and have mass appeal, it is allowed to be sub-standard. 'I Not Stupid' is an example of how it should be - an intelligent, well-made film that appealed to mass audiences. Yes, some audience members may have enjoyed CONFESSIONS but they would have enjoyed it even more if it were better. Simply put, the audience was shortchanged. But the thing that really raised my ire was how offensive I found the content of the play. This was a script that basically exploited the gender divide for cheap laughs, in the process making both sexes look bad. I watch 'Survivor: Amazon' for that! - is this really what the Romancing Singapore campaign is about?

Some of the problems explored on-stage were real issues facing men and women in contemporary Singapore relationships and what worried me was that people laughed as they identified with them… and then that was it. Isn't theatre supposed to be illuminating? Insightful? Enlightening? Isn't it supposed to actually make a difference? Because if CONFESSIONS was meant to be just a piece of entertainment (which is perfectly fine), trust me, this was no laugh-a-minute 'Close - In My Face' either.

And don't even get me started on Auntie Maggie (Loke Loo Pin) suddenly appearing from nowhere to dole out relationship advice to the four young singles by tracing her own life story. What was already turning out to be an un-funny, un-subtle 'Sex And The City' then veered off into 'Touched By An Angel'.

Quite honestly, the whole shebang was a right mess. If the play were one of the unmarried women of the title, it would a bad date trying much too hard in bad make-up and a tacky dress.