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Production

Still Flight and 3 Women

Company

The Substation

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

23/06/2005 and 30/06/2005

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Substation Dance Studio

Rating

***

What It Feels Like for a Girl

The Substation ran a series of intimate performances at the Substation Dance Studio over a week in June. These were low-key affairs with admission by donation and, as the programme says, were "simple, spare, physically based productions". Both Still Flight and 3 Women were restagings of monologues that are headed in August for the International Festival of Women in Contemporary Theatre in Rhode Island, USA.

This context is important in assessing the productions. If I was asked whether these productions were the height of theatre, the best that I had ever seen, the answer would most definitely be "No". Neither was wholly satisfying, offering only glimpses into characters and situations rather than fully formed stories. They were certainly not the most professional or complete works I have seen. However, ask me if I was glad to have watched them and proud for them to be representing Singapore in this international festival, and my answer would most definitely be "Yes".

For me, what both pieces lacked was more than made up for by the palpable passion that went into the writing and performance. I believe the importance of the pieces lay in the fact that these quiet stories about the lives of ordinary women were being told at all rather than how they were told ("without fuss", says actor/writer Verena Tay). This is not to say that there was no merit in the theatricality and craft of the pieces but it cannot be denied either that the International Festival of Women in Contemporary Theatre is as much about politics as it is about theatre. The festival is not simply looking for the best theatre the world has to offer - its name makes that very clear. It is looking for a particular type of theatre that tells a particular story for a particular audience. And so while I feel that both plays, and Still Flight in particular, may not be everyone's cup of tea, there are definitely those who will draw purpose and pleasure from them and these will include the audience at the festival.

I also include myself in that number. Still Flight (23/06/2005) is a monologue about a mentally unstable woman working through her issues of memory, mothering and madness as written by poet Cyril Wong and performed by Elizabeth De Roza. Although I found it meandering in places, I could still appreciate it as an example of its genre, a modern fairytale of sorts, with its repetition of key lines and mythic symbols - the jar of pills that De Roza held so reverently reminded me of Jack's magic beans, for some reason. And there were undeniable truths, poetry and even laughs to be derived ("I've not lost my mind, it's just gone shopping"). While the piece had little that was truly original or fresh to say, what it did say was often phrased into well-crafted meditations ("It is easier to forgive when you cannot remember, because when you forget, it is a kind of forgiving") and carefully constructed staging (De Roza's complex love-hate relationship with her mother was beautifully represented by an over-watered plant which she pulled painfully slowly across the stage towards her with a piece of cloth). The play also opened with a powerful metaphor for the journey towards greater awareness that the character would undertake: De Roza was wrapped in, and emerged from, a cocoon of silk. These were enough to sustain the piece over its 60-minute length but, admittedly, no more.

In terms of performance, De Roza's clearly took a lot out of her. I've seen De Roza in a few productions now, and in every one, there is no doubting how much she invests in her character. There is no laziness in the way she digs so deep into herself and brings everything out onstage for the audience. It is exhausting just looking at her as she contorts her body and face, flails, jumps and even twirls chairs around to give her emotions a physical vocabulary. However, I felt that she needed to hold back more. Everything could be seen in her performance; the anger, the frustration, the confusion were playing across the very surface of her skin for all to see but a little more subtlety and softness would have given her character more light and shade and therefore have made her less one-dimensional.

The three monologues that made up 3 Women (30/06/2005) were rather pedestrian stories about Singaporean women experiencing the trials of everyday life and, as with Still Flight, there was nothing particularly revelatory about what they had to say. Having said that, both Jiving on Java and The Perfect Shoe were easy to identify with and fitfully funny, although actor Verena Tay (who also wrote all three pieces) did not quite have the theatrical flair and charisma to give the comedy the extra lift it needed; especially in Java, as the text meandered around the drudgeries of working life, unreasonable bosses and the horrors of public transport in busy Singapore, so too did her performance flop around without much conviction. Shoe, about a woman with big feet looking for her perfect pair of shoes, had a stronger narrative and Tay was able to handle this better but she shone most brightly in Good Girls Don't Wait, in which she played a simple-minded, insecure girl who is waiting (and waiting) for her ah beng boyfriend who never shows up - except he finally does, but in a way that is a bittersweet surprise for the character and the audience. When I first saw Good Girls Don't Wait in an an earlier staging it lacked the tautness of structure and focus on character that Tay gave it in this version. In writing and performance, Wait was well-handled and came alive with an honesty that gave this simple story the x-factor it needed.

So while neither production is likely to make my top ten list, there is a lot of potential in both that could well be fully realised after a few more stagings or even an approach that takes them out of their "experimental theatre" roots. Both certainly deserve to be further explored and developed, and, admittedly, stronger actors would help. But even as they are now, there is much to appreciate. These are stories that are worth telling and are being told reasonably well, but more importantly they are being told with a lot of heart and sensitivity, which is what matters most in intimate productions of this nature.


"These are stories that are worth telling and are being told reasonably well, but more importantly they are being told with a lot of heart and sensitivity, which is what matters most in intimate productions of this nature"

Credits

Still Flight

Playwright: Cyril Wong

Director & Performer: Elizabeth De Roza

Costume Designer: Radhiya Aljunied

3 Women

Playwright, Director &

Performer: Verena Tay

Stage Manager: Foo Kok Lim

Sound Designer: Stephanie Kwok

Sound Operator: Audrey Wong

Technical Coordinator: Anand V. Pillai

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.