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.
TO BE ALIVE
for this play told me that the writers for PULSE, Kaylene Tan and Paul
Rae, are known for their non-linear, more or less off-the-wall scripts,
so when I had to walk through a pitch-black tunnel-like construction to
get to the theatre (a fabric uterus? was I being reborn?) and when lead
actress Norlina Mohd bade me "welcome, welcome" wearing only
a broad smile and a one piece slip nighty, I was only mildly surprised.
Seats were set aside on each of the three sides of the raised, deep thrust
stage, labeled reserved. Foolish people sat next to them.
The performance started with Norlina introducing herself and saying how
great it was that she was for once able to talk to and interact with the
audience. She asked us all whether we were comfortable; we said that we
were not. She asked us all whether we were well; we said that we were.
It was obvious that she was trying very hard to make us like her and to
draw us in and generally she succeeded, affecting a winning vulnerability
- but at times throughout the play, she pressed a tad too hard on
the "like me" pedal and came across as attention-seeking.
playing occasionally other characters but mainly other aspects of Norlina's
character, was particularly effective at portraying tiredness and jadedness
- she was worn out by the very ravages of being a woman.
diaristic perspective of women's lives as they live and love was suitably
probing and largely truthfully conveyed'
There was little verbal interaction between the two women. Instead, the
narrative was carried largely through alternating monologues between Norlina
and Nora. We were made to wonder about the relationship between the two
women and we were never given a specific answer, but the actors' contrasting
stage presences gave each a different dramatic flavour and opened different
perspectives on the lines and themes presented, driving the play forward.
And when they did interact occasionally - bickering, speaking over each
other or even tenderly dancing, some of the play's most powerful moments
Much of the
play circled around sex and its relation to food, men, life, relationships,
etc. - from the two actors' sexy short nightdresses to the eroticism sprinkled
liberally throughout the words and movements on stage. Much of this was
compellingly valid and served vividly to illustrate the struggles of a
modern woman to be a partner, to accommodate her sexuality, to be a good
girl in the eyes of our conservative Asian society. But in several places,
more graphic sex seemed to have been crammed in just as an attempt to
be daring and controversial, and such scenes as an explicit description
of a girl fornicating with a horse or a wild-eyed recount of a depraved
fantasy with a black toilet cleaner did little for the flow of the play
and left nothing but an unpleasant and empty taste in my mouth.
The set was interesting, to say the least. The stage was literally made
up of rows of flickering television sets - facing upwards and providing
almost all of the lighting for the performance. A ghostly torch-and-campfire
uplighting effect was avoided by hanging a foil mirror as the ceiling
for the stage to diffuse the light. The televisions flickered and flashed,
cycled through colours and patterned images never quite randomly, and
if it was possible to say with certainty what their meaning was, they
had an unquestionable effect on mood. The same can be said for the sound
design, a rippling sea of electronic noise, which at times complemented
the drama, pain, levity or urgency of a given scene, and at times distracted
perspective of women's lives as they live and love was suitably probing
and largely truthfully conveyed, but it was a pity that it was somewhat
skewed so that there was too much emphasis on the woman as a man's appendage
- on the woman's being "of" a man. It is a pity that more space
was not given to the woman in and of herself.
Toh works in some obscure fashion with technology and marketing. Her hobbies
include salsa, tennis and picking up new hobbies.