>DRAMA 101

>reviewed by adi soon

>date: 25 nov 2000
>time: 7:15pm
>venue: tampines regional library theatrette
>rating: *1/2

>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.


What is this play about?

I asked myself this question as I sat in the audience awaiting the start of the play. Looking at the bare stage decked out with only 2 chairs in the middle, I realised that set design hadn't been one of the considerations of the artistic team. Instead I gathered, that this would be a celebration of the actor and the actor's art. This would be a deliberate reduction of theatre to its basic elements. After all, one only needs an actor and an audience as the basic requirement to any performance. Clearly then there would be much to look forward to. The ingredients of a good production were in evidence since there was an enthusiastic cast made up of theatre students in some capacity or other.

But I wondered again: what is this play about?

I looked to page 5 of the program that gave some semblance of a structure to the entire play. It seemed to suggest that I would be guided through the highlights and landmarks of theatre history. DRAMA 101? What was I thinking? Of course this would be a short course in theatre!

But I still wasn't sure. It was all too vague and I was comfortably trying to convince myself that I would find out soon enough.

This was however not to be in the end and I could not help thinking that perhaps this should have been a question that the directors asked themselves when they set out to conceive this play. My guess was that in the beginning someone suddenly said, "Hey you know I would love to do Act 2, Scene 3 of 'Romeo and Juliet'." And someone else would chime in, "Hey, I would like to do such and such a monologue from this play I love!" And then finally, someone would say, "Let's string them all up and make a play!" Rowdy applause would commence and the work would begin.

>>'Cheap shots and tackiness were the order of the day'

This was in fact how the entire play felt like. Scenes from 'Romeo and Juliet', 'The Taming of the Shrew', 'Emily of Emerald Hill' etc. and original skits played out one after another with no visible thread running through them. With no contextual background or lead, it was difficult for the audience to understand what was going on. Of course it would have been easy to ignore this had each individual skit been well acted. On this night however, the acting was cringingly amateurish. Shakespeare's lines were butchered by poor enunciation, and the acting was insensitive. With low energy and an even lower sense of actor's instincts, the play became more and more reliant on cheap shots to induce audience laughter. In fact, one of the more irritating cheap shots of the night was an attempt at audience interaction.

A small list is in order:
>Emily of Emerald Hill walks off the stage (à la Ivan Heng's Emily) to act out the fish market scene.
>Cosette from 'Les Misérables' and some other unidentifiable characters make mayhem by running around the auditorium and irritating the audience.
>Clytemnestra and 2 camp backup dancers go through the audience in a rendition of 'I Will Survive'.
>An actor asks the audience to stand up while the entire national anthem is played.

Ahhh, those theatre students wanting to put into practice what they've learnt in class. Audience interaction however requires much more than bullying the audience into submission, it requires charisma and energy and a belief on the audience's part that such participation would be fun. Sadly this was severely lacking. Cheap shots and tackiness were the order of the day. The most engaging section of the entire play was watching the 'Talking Point' interview with the 2 song writers of the 'Swing Singapore Renaissance Cocktail'. Homosexual camp was funny and all but it could hardly have contained any artistic merit.

With such a veritable rojak of a show, the only message I could discern in the end came from the little songs that were peppered throughout. However in this presentation, the original lyrics were taken out and replaced with self-made ones. What were the issues on display? Well most of it seemed to wax lyrical about the arts being important and the ongoing debate on the Renaissance City report as well as its attendant issues. At this point another list is in order.

The titles of the songs that were used:
>'Cell Block Tango' from 'Chicago'
>'No Matter What' by Boyzone
>'One Day More' and 'Do You Hear the People Sing' from 'Les Misérables'

There was a musical interlude somewhere in the middle but I left that out because I could not identify the songs there. To be fair, there were some songs that were very well rendered. Joanna Dong especially stood out with her beautiful voice. The whole enterprise however seemed somewhat distasteful. Judging by the faithful reproduction of the other skits, logic dictates that they should have sung the songs in their original form. Though I suppose lacking a message of some kind to disseminate to the audience, the decision was made to sing the songs this way.

In the end what I did learn was that as far as theatre students go, they still have much to learn. Perhaps along the way some professional attitudes should be learned as well. After the play ended, five seconds after blackout, a loud shriek was heard off-stage. You know, the kind where everyone hugs each other after a secondary school performance. Then bounding thumps were heard as the cast starting running out of the wings into the audience to greet their friends. To be honest, I expected more. I really did expect much more. Here were performers with passionate interest and to be fair, acting potential as well. This production should not have left a bitter taste in my mouth but it did.

Perhaps it had already been expected. Somewhere in the middle of the show during a scene change, the voice of a stereotypical Ah Beng rang out from the wings: "What's this play about? Watch scene after scene, si bei xian!"

I don't know who decided to put that in, but they should have heeded their own advice.