>prism by toy factory theatre ensemble

>reviewed by jennifer ng

>date: 15 nov 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang 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.


The production opens with a darkened stage as the audience sees a solitary figure surrounded by lengths of fluttering pale silk. In the bow of his head and slump of his shoulders, a vivid portrait of dejection and loneliness is conveyed. Off-stage, a plaintive female voice begins a tune of sorrow.

Thus begins the ambitious multi-language and cross-medium staging of PRISM. The story starts with the protagonist Aman in a silent pantomime of regret, having lost the symbol of all that is important which he found so late in life. It then takes us back a year ago to when Aman first set foot in the Surrounding City. A single-minded bureaucrat with a neat beard and Armani togs, his task was to announce to the residents of Surrounding City that their home and city would soon be demolished to build a new chemical weapons research centre.

>>'A production which displayed a truly inspiring sophistication in theatrical techniques keeled over due to a clumsy and clunky script.'

In the space of a year, Aman comes to realise the path of spiritual bankruptcy that has his life has followed for years. His wanderings within the city and his interactions with its residents comprise the main body of the production. And this is when PRISM begins to falter. As Aman wanders through the city, the story unravels in a meandering and didactic manner.

For sure, there are parts of PRISM that were breathtaking. The ensemble cast moved about with easy grace and sung with assured vocals, perhaps in part assisted by the fact that they were often vocalising in their native tongues. One of director Goh Boon Teck's fortes has always been creating spot-on visual imagery which simply and effectively conveys his intended message and indeed such powerful tableaux are scattered throughout PRISM. Notable too was Malaysian composer Saidah Rastam's mournful soundscape that never overwhelmed the action on stage and yet was effective enough - particularly during the rendition of the legend of the Goddess of Mercy - that it could be heart wrenching.

When asked to describe what PRISM was about, Director Goh Boon Teck has been quoted as saying that in his view Asia is bleeding and PRISM is a production designed to discuss these wounds in a poetic, musical and visual way. But PRISM comes across as not so much a discussion of Asia's wounds but an overt lecture in which the obvious must be emphasised and its messages pounded into the audience. The messages were not subtle and, worse still, neither were they sophisticated. This was PRISM's Achilles heel - that a production which displayed a truly inspiring sophistication in theatrical techniques should keel over due to a clumsy and clunky (albeit well meaning) script.

Still, as an experimental foreign artistic collaboration on such a large scale, PRISM excites in that it demonstrates clearly that there is so much talent to be nurtured if given the ample opportunities to work, to improve and ultimately, to shine.