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Two Women for One Ghost and La Musica




Kenneth Kwok






Guinness Theatre, The Substation



Je Ne Sais Quoi

World-in-Theatre is a bit of an anachronistic anomaly in today's theatre scene of Dim Sum Dollies, Tops and Bottoms, and all the Shopping and Fucking going on. The company is known for its infusion of traditional Asian art forms, including Japanese Noh theatre, Malay martial arts and Indian dance, into its staging of classic epic narratives and frankly, you can't get more classic or epic than The Ramayana and the Bible (The Gospel According to Mark).

A French double bill seemed to me to be an attempt on the part of the company to explore new territory and expand beyond its devoted niche audience (among which I am proud to count myself). Not that picking scripts by the relatively obscure (at least in a Singapore context) French writer Rene de Obaldia (Two Women for One Ghost) and the only slightly-more-famous but equally French and arty Marguerite Duras (La Musica) was going to bring in a mainstream audience braying for a Hollywood blockbuster. Still, these were more intimate and contemporary pieces than World-in-Theatre's usual fare: the first was a three-hander about a wife meeting her husband's mistress for the first time, and the second was a two-hander about a couple meeting one final time in the hotel where they used to stay before their divorce is finalised.

Sadly, things just didn't quite fall into place.

The script for Two Women for One Ghost was not without potential. There was opportunity for farce, especially when the husband returned to his apartment as a ghost just as his wife and mistress were meeting for the first time, but this was not a genre that World-in-Theatre had explored before and their inexperience showed. The timing of the actors, being too slow and measured, was out of sync with the rhythm of the script, and the fussy, over-the-top ghost (actor/director Sonny Lim) seemed to be in a completely different play altogether. This disconnect unfortunately caused this comedy to be seriously unfunny.

It was not helped by actors who fluffed their lines. Priyalatha Arun, in particular, often seemed unsure of herself when speaking and moving. Relative newcomer Celine Ng did show promise, comfortably inhabiting her character in a few places, but generally, she also seemed under-rehearsed.

I applaud the company for taking the risk of trying something different, but precisely because this static, almost claustrophobic piece was a new experience for them, they needed to put in more work in both the acting and the direction to give it the confidence and clockwork timing it needed.

More creative blocking and set and lighting designs would not have gone amiss either. This is not a case of undermining the integrity of the script by asking for a glitter ball and having the wife and mistress suddenly doing a raunchy dance number with a harem of well-oiled young male dancers. It is recognising that being true to the script means helping to flesh out all of its potential through the wide theatrical arsenal available. If you are not going to use this arsenal for optimum effect, why not just ask the audience to read the text? Just because the masks and costumes have been put away, it does not mean that the company has to strip its productions of all colour and texture.

This was true of the second piece, La Musica, as well. The script itself, while overlong and much too text-heavy, was not without moments of great poignancy and poetry. But nearly 90 minutes of two people sitting in a darkened room together talking about their marriage needed more than just having two people sitting in a darkened room together talking about their marriage. Ferlin Jayatissa and Debra Teng put a lot of heart into the performance and captured the aching sadness of a marriage as the last few grains of sand slipped slowly through the couple's hands but that was all they gave - just wave after wave of sadness. I found it hard to care for the couple or invest in them emotionally because, for me, they were shadows rather than fully fleshed-out characters. Perhaps this was a conscious decision on the part of director Chris Cheers to bring out the stillness and stark quality of the piece, but while it could have been powerful within a tight 30 minutes, it became meandering and repetitive when it went on for as long as it did with nothing else to support it.

The fact is that entirely text-driven pieces can work - Alan Bennett's Talking Heads springs to mind. It helps that Talking Heads features engaging and charismatic characters in interesting situations, but a large part of whether a production of it works is ultimately down to what the actors and director can bring to the script in its translation to the stage.

Where World-in-Theatre goes from here, I'm not sure. I hope that if it continues to stage more contemporary scripts, it chooses them wisely and explores more fully the possibilities inherent in them. Cheers has previously succeeded in incorporating the strengths of the company's aesthetic into a relatively contemporary play (he did so in Equus for parent company Asia-in-Theatre Research Centre back in 2000), so it will be interesting to see what the future will bring.

"Just because the masks and costumes have been put away, it does not mean that the company has to strip its productions of all colour and texture"


Directors: Chris Cheers and Sonny Lim

Assistant Director: Ferlin Jayatissa

Set Design: Chris Cheers and Ferlin Jayatissa

Lighting Design: Chris Cheers

Sound Design: Paul Falzon

Graphic Design: Chan Man Loon

Costume Design: Shan Vayu

Costume Production: Radiah Aljunied

Cast: Priya Arun, Celine Tan, Sonny Lim, Debra Teng, Ferlin Jayatissa and Sulabha Menon

More Reviews of Productions by World-in-Theatre

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.