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Production

The Minister's Wife?!

Company

Quiet Riot

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

05/07/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

**1/2

Mixed Portfolio

There are quite a few youth-oriented theatre companies in Singapore. Some such as young & W!LD are under the auspices of an established theatre company but others, like Quiet Riot, bring together alumni of junior college drama clubs and theatre studies programmes who want to strike out on their own right from the beginning. Their gumption is laudable but, as is the case here, they are not always ready to be held up against the standard of professional theatre - and that is a problem when they are charging professional theatre prices. This is not to say that The Minister's Wife?!, Quiet Riot's inaugural production, is not without its strengths but, ultimately, it remains a school play.

The first half of Wife?! is a standard comedy of errors: Minister Bertram Subramaniam (Akesh Abhilash) plans to win over a tycoon by wining and dining him in his home but his plans go awry when Clarisse (Jeane Reveendran), the Minister's wife, mistakes Michael Tan (Jason Khor), an ah beng living in Bertram's constituency, for Michael Han (Muhd Nur Hadri), the rich and powerful businessman. Tangled up in this is a political scandal involving a sex tape which is eventually revealed to be of Bertram and maid Aminah (Loh Supei). A few lines were inserted rather clunkily just to get a laugh and there were some truly ludicrous conceits for which disbelief had to be suspended - the central plot device that Clarisse could confuse the two Michaels, for example, or even that Michael Tan was able to wander up to Bertram's doorstep at all - but, by and large, I found the script to be rather witty and charming with a consistent narrative pull that kept the proceedings moving along quite nicely. Direction was also solid, particularly in the way that the actors were moved about onstage and I thought the lights were used effectively to differentiate which parts of the apartment that were in play.

The main problem with the play though was in its pace and timing and I'm afraid to say that this was due to some very weak work indeed by the ensemble cast. The actors lacked conviction and precision in their performances and some were simply miscast. Reveendran fared best, having the comic flair to pull off her screeching howler monkey role of a tarted up tai tai but even her performance started to grate after a while because it lacked variation. Akesh is a promising actor: he has stage presence and delivers his lines with punch. However, his flamboyant performance left me wondering how confident the actor really is in himself because he was reacting or rather, over-reacting, to every single moment. To grow as an actor, he needs to be more secure about himself onstage, stop over-compensating and put aside his repertoire of tics to concentrate on getting a stronger sense of his character.

To be fair, because the play was so over the top and silly, some of the bad acting actually became part of the joke (unfortunately, this was at the actors' expense). Still, while I did smile consistently throughout the first half of the evening, I only laughed out loud a couple of times and this is a problem when the show is set up to be an all-out farce.

The strangest thing then happened about an hour into the play: just as it approached its climax, Wife?! came to a screeching halt. A producer walked on stage and declared that, due to a technical difficulty, the audience had to leave the theatre. Since this coincided with the appropriate time for an interval and the actors seemed much too calm, I assumed this was all part of the show. It was - and we returned for a second half in which we were told that the script for Wife?! had been banned but the actors would have to continue anyway (without a script) so as to give us our money's worth.

In my conversation with director Michael Quilindo after the show, he said that the series of comedy sketches that followed was meant to illustrate how, even as artists rail against censorship, they too must take personal responsibility for their art and not expect a free pass in the name of artistic freedom. There is a way to deliver social commentary in the form of a sketch show - The Necessary Stage's Abuse Suxxx!!! or Close In My Face, for example - but, in this case, the comedy completely overshadowed any message because the former was front and centrestage while the latter was never taken up in any sustained way. With credit to all involved, many of the sketches were indeed outrageously funny but they could only be enjoyed as parody for its own sake rather than as satire or to make a point. Quilindo and his actors were not able to calibrate their comedy as carefully as they would have liked and so missed many opportunities to realise the full potential of their concept. One example of this is the nativity scene with an atheist, a cross-dressing makcik and a Buddhist monk as the three wise men. Quilindo's focus was on the comedy which is all well and good but to serve his greater ambition, it was the moment when Loh broke out of character and stormed off in anger, saying that the scene was blasphemous and thus disrespectful to her as a Christian, that he should have seized on to discuss say, religion in art - instead, the scene simply ended at this point.

Still, while some judicious editing would not have gone amiss (actors got angry and stormed off the set in mock-anger way too many times), I certainly had little quarrel with the second half simply in terms of being funny. Like for most teenagers, Quiet Riot's comedy worked best when it was irreverent, camp or a parody of popular culture and that was what informed much of the comedy in these sketches. Akesh's Borat impersonation, for example, was spot-on and Reveendran's transgendered herbal tea seller was another winner. You could see real investment on the part of the actors where it had been lacking before. But by far the greatest triumph was Hadri who seemed to have suddenly come alive in the second half. Why he was cast as the bland and colourless Michael Han in the first half is beyond me. When asked to play camp or larger than life characters instead, like a drag queen Tina Turner wanna-be, he excelled with utterly shameless scene-stealing.

So, all in all, an entertaining night? Yes. But Quiet Riot still has some way to go if it wants to establish itself as a professional theatre company. Quiet Riot may need some mentorship but young & W!LD has proven that age doesn't matter when it comes to achieving quality so I hope they persevere.


"I certainly had little quarrel with the second half simply in terms of being funny"

Credits

Producers: Muhd Nur Hadri and Michael Quilindo

Director: Michael Quilindo

Assistant Director: Amy Lim

Stage Manager and Wardrobe Manager: Vicki Yang

Dramaturge, Technical Manager and Lighting Designer: Khairul Nizam

Stagehand: Alyssa Rae Tan

Make up: Rohaizatul Azhar

Cast: Jeane Reveendran, Loh Supei, Akesh Abhilash, Jason Khor and Muhd Nur Hadri

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.