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Production

Eclipse

Company

The Necessary Stage and 7:84 Theatre Comp.

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

16/01/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

Gallery Theatre, National Museum

Rating

***

Setting Son

Haresh Sharma was commissioned in 2007 by Scotland's 7:84 Theatre Company to write Eclipse as a 20-minute play for the company's Re:Union. Re:Union was a staging of four meditations by four different writers on the theme of separation, and for his contribution, Sharma decided to explore the story of three generations of men in a family which had been touched in different ways by the 1947 partition between Pakistan and India. The monodrama with multiple parts played by one actor was told from the viewpoint of a young gay Singaporean whose contemporary lifestyle seems so different to him from that of his father's and grandfather's. A reviewer for the British Theatre Guide applauded the play's "carefully layered exposition" and how it was "deeply rooted in a sense of time and place", but while all this could still be seen at the core of the expanded version of Eclipse staged at the National Museum, this reviewer regrets to say that the impact of the play was much too diluted over a 60-minute running time.

The play explores themes of identity, legacy and what it means for a place to truly be a home but there simply isn't enough there that is really fresh or insightful to sustain an hour and so the play soon finds itself treading water. I have never been a huge fan of Stella Kon's Emily of Emerald Hill but that play which, like Eclipse, is also a family drama evoking a sense of lost history and culture, did build momentum as it progressed - you had a sense that it was going somewhere. Eclipse, on the other hand, often spirals within itself. Multiple characters and storylines are introduced but none of them is particularly memorable. In fact, at quite a few points in the play, actor Umar Ahmed suddenly stops talking and engages in abstract physical movements around the stage. Rather than intrigue or stimulate, however, these transitions feel awkward and only make me conscious of the fact that this restaging of Eclipse has that much more stage time that needs to be filled.

In fact, it is not only time that needs filling but space as well. I thought the use of broken crates as a motif while not exactly innovative was effective in making a statement about creation from destruction. What I had trouble with was that, with most of these crates at the back of the stage, there was a vast amount of bare space (covered in sand or, more appropriately, ash?) for Umar to move around in at the front of the stage. The young actor was unfortunately often dwarfed by this great emptiness and his running around onstage looked less like inspired blocking and more like he was just trying to take up more room.

Essentially, the problem with Eclipse is that it lacks both a strong authorial voice and a directorial one. Eclipse is certainly one of Sharma's lesser works in terms of its ambition and attention to detail. The structure, content and them of the narrative hold few surprises and the lines are overly sentimental: where is the intricate construction seen in Sharma's own recent Good People? Another work Eclipse reminded me of was the meandering For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again. In both these plays, what the story is about and what it wants to say seem to be more important to the playwright than the craft of shaping how everything is actually being said. Sharma with his recent successes is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance but with that comes higher expectations as well, and Eclipse just does not meet the mark now that the bar has been raised.

Likewise, I was also disappointed in the direction by 7:84's Jo Ronan. Ronan is actually one of the founding members of The Necessary Stage but left Singapore many years ago and is now based in Scotland. She is certainly a competent director but I was surprised by how anonymous Eclipse was, relying as it did on rather clichéd symbols not only in the script but also in the various artistic choices she made. One example was the choice of music and how it was used. Abruptly cutting from a western pop/country song that Umar is singing to an Indian one felt heavy-handed because it was such a literal representation of the east-meets-west theme of the play.

To be fair, Umar, a Scotsman of Pakistani origin, gives the role his best shot and delivers a creditable performance as son, father and grandfather along with an assortment of neighbours and friends. He takes on the multiple characters with great aplomb and despite putting in so much energy and intensity into his performance, he makes everything look so casual and effortless. He is clearly having a good time on stage, especially when he is singing and dancing along to his iPod, and that is always nice to see as an audience member. He may lack the master craftsmanship and nuance of someone like, say, Ramesh Meyyappan but he is not without talent and has charm and cheek to spare. His Scottish accent confuses - I kept waiting for his Singaporean character to visit Scotland by way of explanation - but otherwise, I think he was well cast in the role.

All in all, I just never felt as if enough of the pieces in Eclipse were falling into place and clicking. Eclipse was diverting enough for 60 minutes but it had no real emotional impact on me. I left that evening without any strong impressions of the production. I'm still looking forward to The Necessary Stage's next play because this didn't feel like one of theirs. Even taking into consideration the fact that Eclipse was a collaboration, I'd have been hard-pressed to have guessed the production was by TNS at all, lacking as it did the company's trademark daring and inventiveness.

First Impression

Even considering that the play is a collaboration with Scottish company 7:84, I was surprised by how little of The Necessary Stage's daring and inventiveness shine through in Eclipse. The 60-minute monodrama shuffles along innocuously enough if you just sit back and let it run its course. The story of a young Singaporean who returns to his father's home country of Pakistan to spread his ashes is not without its charm even if it is overly familiar in its scope and theme. However, I was never fully engaged because I did not feel that the play had its own theatrical voice. For a play about identity, Eclipse was oddly anonymous; the artistic team relied too much on the safe and formulaic in its creative choices, from the play's metaphors and motifs to its music and sets. Another problem I had was that there were simply too many characters being introduced within the very short running time. It did not help that all of them were played by the same actor and that none of them was written in a way that made them particularly memorable. Scotsman Umar Ahmed did a good job of playing multiple parts but his performance ultimately did not really have the magnetism to pull me fully into the world of his narrative either.


"Essentially, the problem with Eclipse is that it lacks both a strong authorial voice and a directorial one"

Credits

Playwright: Haresh Sharma

Director: Jo Ronan

Technician: James Gardner

Cast: Umar Ahmed

More Reviews of Productions by The Necessary Stage

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.