>PILLARS by The Necessary Stage and Teater Kami

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 11 may 1997
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>Standing firm

There were strange things. Before the play began, the actors were doing their warm-ups on stage. Not too alarming for the open-minded but perhaps a bit disconcerting to those expecting a closed curtain, or at least a bare stage. I found the process of bending, stretching and meditating illuminating, and all this reassured me that these actors were taking their roles seriously, physically and mentally. The production from beginning to end was an open concept: stage manager at the back of the stage where t he dressing area cum acting area was, actors slipping in and out of characters (sometimes literally in and out of costumes), sometimes deliberately breaking dramatic moments. Then at the end, the actors, some of them waving non-stop, were on stage until m ost of the audience left. Alienating but at the same time, not too distant because the whole production grew on the audience. The actors invited us into the drama, joked with us and most importantly, left us scenes for our imaginations to take over.

>>'The actors were a remarkable bunch'

To ask what the play was about is too broad a question. It's not just about the tension between the Chinese and the Malays, but also about one's identity as a Chinese or a Malay. There was no main thread running through but a patchwork of situations, mo ments, tableaux and silences. One scene moved into another, almost totally different in style. From reading out of biased snippets on the Chinese and Malays to a mini-musical epic on Sang Nila Utama founding Singapore to three mysterious Malay women in sa rong taking a bath. For very serious and sensitive themes, there was a lot of comic energy. For example, some mild racist jokes were raised in an unabashed manner. What got the audience rollicking in laughter was the "SitiMat" (a brother-sister duo) versi on of the legend of Laksamana Bintan, aiming at the truth but nonetheless, still including their own biases. The chemistry between the two actors was bubbling with energy. But it was not all fun and laughter. There were intense moments but the intensity was not allowed to suck the audience into a one-off audience moment of revelation. Very quickly, the scene shifted, and so did our focus. Something else exciting was brewing in this melting pot.

The actors were a remarkable bunch. While retaining their own personality, they worked well as an ensemble, supporting one another. This was helped by the nature of the play; actors had a major role in shaping the content and style of the production, tra nsforming improvisations into startling pieces of fiction and real life. The excellent ensemble acting came through the final scene of the play. At first, we witnessed tension between a Chinese family, father, mother and daughter. Then the scene was re-played, varied with a Malay guy taking over the role of a Chinese daughter, then a Malay father replacing the Chinese one and so went on an interchanging of gender and race, treading upon issues concerning the position of women and the relationship between the Malays and Chinese. Then suddenly, it breaks down into a discussion of the actors' characters and soon unwinds into personal spaces for each of the actors.

The collaboration between TNS and TK is a first but it has turned out so well. The experimental-type process has not led to inconceivable messages drawing blank looks. Instead, it has stretched the actors, and in turn, stretched our minds.