>THE VISIT OF THE TAI TAI by W!ld Rice

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 22 oct 2004
>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.
 

>>>>>GODDESS ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP

On the night that I watched THE VISIT OF THE TAI TAI, Ivan Heng was down with a very bad sore throat. It is to his credit though that even though he was sick, he still performed at a level that far surpassed that of most other local performers.

Heng had totally immersed himself in the role of the glamourous and ridiculously wealthy Tai Tai returning to her poverty-stricken rustic hometown, the aptly-named Saitang (or "Shit Pail"), and was by turns extremely funny (wrestling with her artificial leg) gloriously bitchy (firing caustic one-liners), suitably sweet (remembering her childhood days) and painfully human (retelling her story of being wronged by the townsfolk all those years ago and now demanding vengeance at all costs). Heng was well-cast to play Claire Zachanassian not because his speciality, drag, added particularly to the impact of the role - though it did make the character suitably larger than life and give her a more intimidating stature and a broader silhouette - but simply because Heng is a fine actor able to capture all the different shades of this poor little rich girl - possibly better than any local actor, man or woman, that I can think of.

Whenever Heng is on-stage, he quite literally demands your attention and you are powerless to resist (admittedly he is helped in this by some truly outrageous costumes designed by Laichan that wouldn't be out of place in a Cher or Madonna concert). In fact, the play sags whenever he is off-stage but that is only because Heng has raised the bar so high. Lim Kay Siu as Anthony Seow, Claire's childhood sweetheart, and the rest of the ensemble cast are in fact more than adequate for their parts with only Fanny Kee and Norlinah Mohamad oddly cast as a bumbling painter and a comedy train conductor respectively, which for reasons unknown required them to be in drag as well. Regardless, all remained in the very imposing shadow cast by Heng's Tai Tai.

>>'Classic W!ld Rice: a solid script, intelligently localised; a fine cast with razor-sharp timing; high production values; confident direction'

As a script, Friedrich Durrenmatt's THE VISIT OF THE TAI TAI, presented here as part of the Durrenmatt Festival by the Embassy of Switzerland, is a powerful drama undercut with rich swathes of irony and dark humour. Like the recent film 'Dogville', it also asks uncomfortable questions that pick at what makes us fundamentally human: our values. In this case, Claire Zachanassian will only donate generously to the rebuilding of Saitang if the citizens agree to assassinate Anthony Seow, now a simple shopkeeper with a wife and two children, who callously left her head on the chopping board in their youth to save his own skin. The dilemma that results for the townsfolk is clear to all but has no easy resolution. And as the story unfolds with the characteristic twists and turns of the genre and dark secrets being revealed, the audience cannot help but be drawn in and be forced to face the dilemma themselves.

What would you do?

As always, W!ld Rice adds colour and texture to the piece by localising it and, as always, they do so with charm and, more importantly, with purpose, under the guiding hands of director Krishen Jit and codirector Heng, who also did the adapatation. Alongside the cheap laughs that invariably come with localised references, a satire is developed about our personal and political life in Singapore. As our country races towards economic success, what are the things we leave behind? How prepared are we as citizens to stick our heads out of the sand and challenge the injustices and hypocrisies we see around us? Do we always think, no matter how bad things get, that they will somehow always be alright in the end - because someone else will make it okay?

A rather underwhelming last 15 minutes aside, THE VISIT OF THE TAI TAI is classic W!ld Rice: a solid script, intelligently localised; a fine cast with razor-sharp timing; high production values; confident direction; and always the sense that you are attending a theatrical Event.

Thank God for the Tai Tai! And thank God for W!ld Rice!