>pulse. i am alive. by theatreworks

>reviewed by charmaine toh

>date: 24 apr 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the black box, fort canning
>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.


My companion 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.

Nora Samosir, 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.

>>'This 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 ensued.

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 from it.

This diaristic 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.

Charmaine Toh works in some obscure fashion with technology and marketing. Her hobbies include salsa, tennis and picking up new hobbies.