Home
Reviews
Archive
Listings
About Us
Email

Production

The Campaign to Confer the Public Service...

Company

W!ld Rice

Reviewer

Boon Chan

Date

12/08/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

**1/2

A Show by Any Other Word...

What's in a name? When the title in question is The Campaign to Confer a Public Service Star on JBJ, quite a bit. Such a title raises certain expectations, and if the entire play turns out to be mere sleight-of-hand (the real JBJ never appears), the audience is bound to feel cheated. One could argue that this was the point: that the title and the expectations it engendered were really a comment about the power of certain words, about (real or imagined) boundaries and the preconceived notions an audience carries with it into a theatre. But no one is going to enjoy being taken for a ride (unless it's a superbly constructed one).

Part of the problem with the play was an indulgence in double-speak and nudge-nudge wink-wink. There were puns and allusions and dances around the mulberry bush... and, by the end of act one, I was left wondering if it was going to be all peep but no show. Tan Tarn How commented in the programme that "the craft of beating about the bush is part of the playwright's arsenal too." Fair enough, but clearly, beating about the bush is not an easy craft to master.

So what was Wong gunning at exactly? She teases us with the prospect of a government conspiracy with regard to the JBJ campaign, tells us that what happens to David Lee, the student leader behind the campaign, is not the result of the supposed conspiracy and then proceeds to present us with a conspiracy anyway - in X-Files style, complete with clandestine meetings in a car park. At this point the play veered dangerously close to the territory of farce.

Despite the murky whole, there were scenes that worked. In the first act, David Lee (Rodney Oliveiro) seeks to harness the power of the internet to rally people to his cause. Wong milks the mrbrown episode (a blogger who was censured when he criticised the government in a newspaper column) for a number of laughs and even lampoons New Age hokeyness in the process. Even the non-sequiturs were funny.

In the second act, Clara Tang, the bureaucrat "tasked to exercise damage control," (played by Pam Oei) has a hilarious encounter with the Deputy Superintendent (DSP) of the police. This was where the political satire was sharpest. As the DSP put it, in the Old Singapore, things were clear since nothing was allowed. The problem with New Singapore and the loosening of constraints was the sudden abundance of grey areas. In the Old Singapore, a memorandum from the "powers that be" would have made clear what was to be done in the matter of David Lee's case. In the New Singapore, one was not given instructions and yet could easily run afoul of the powers that be since constraints, albeit loosened ones, were still in place. It was enough to make one curl up, hide under one's desk and suck one's thumb! This was an over-the-top moment that illustrated perfectly the maddening frustrations of negotiating this New Singapore for the bureaucrat (at heart).

Unfortunately, there were also several dud scenes to sit through. Was there really a need to parody the Singapore Idol auditions? It was too easy a target (the singing! the judges!) without much of a pay-off.

The bifurcated structure of the play, with its focus on David Lee in the first act and Clara Tang in the second, meant that both actors had to take on a number of roles. Oei's comic timing and excellent use of accents were most welcome, though the less sympathetic Clara proved to be a harder nut to crack. In contrast, Oliveiro's David came off as rather bland, and he never seemed to fully inhabit his different roles.

Staging-wise, director Ivan Heng kept things simple, often conveying entire settings successfully with just a few props. However, there were a couple of questionable choices. The video projection unnecessarily stated the obvious (e.g. a transition into evening) and served only to distract from the play. It was also a strange decision to have Oei announcing the act and scene number, which constantly took the audience out of the world of the play.

So the sum of these uneven parts did not coalesce into a coherent whole. The ending, a dance between David and Clara, is meant to evoke... what exactly? Are they "dancing on graves" as Clara mentioned? What died? Are they mourning the passing of Old Singapore? Clara's loss of innocence? Was this meant to be a poignant moment between the two? If so, it was not earned, and the play ended, not inappropriately, on an odd, neither-here-nor-there moment.


"Tan Tarn How commented in the programme that 'the craft of beating about the bush is part of the playwright's arsenal too.' Fair enough, but clearly, beating about the bush is not an easy craft to master"

Second Opinion
Imbalance of Power by Ng Yi-Sheng
Credits

Playwright: Eleanor Wong

Director: Ivan Heng

Cast: Pam Oei and Rodney Oliveiro

Scenic Designer: Ivan Heng

Video Artist: Casey Lim

Lighting Designer: Yo Shao Ann

Costume Designer: Mothar Kassim

Hair and Wigs: Ashley Lim

Production Manager: BB Koh

Stage Manager: Elnie Mashari

Technical Manager: Teo Kuang Han

Assistant Stage Manager: Alycia Finley

Stage Assistants: Ben Ng, Kala Rahman

Wardrobe Mistress: Pauline Tan

Wardrobe Assistant: Chang Jia Yin

Producer: Tony Trickett

More Reviews of Productions by W!ld Rice

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