>evol by theatrExprezz

>reviewed by eugene tan

>date: 27 may 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>rating: not rated

>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.

>>>>>love among friends

The Gunung Sayang Association produces Peranakan plays with all their traditional elements. Artistically, it could be said that these plays are hardly exciting, groundbreaking or original, but that is not the point. The point is community fellowship and bonding, not for the audience, for whom it makes for a fun night out, but rather, it is for the cast and crew who come together to produce the show.

The same could be said of EVOL by theatrExprezz.

EVOL was supposed to be about love - it is "love in reverse", it is also an acronym for effervescent, valiant, original and light-hearted. While it was a light-hearted look at love about half the time, I was never really sure how effervescent, valiant or original applied. Essentially, EVOL is a collection of vignettes, really short vignettes - mostly skits, some dance and a song. I will attempt to go through them on by one.

The show opened with three men musing about various things. One about his preference for the dark, another, about the marvels of his cellular phone and the third about his need for coffee. Bringing to mind the three stooges and the three witches of 'Macbeth', one never really was sure what the link was between each of them or even with the theme of love. I should warn readers now that this is gonna take a while - there were thirteen vignettes.

The second offering was a more straight forward presentation. A couple falling apart because he is insensitive and she has issues with her self image, or lack of, more specifically her breasts, or lack of. He has a penchant for reading the "50 Most Eligible Bachelors" issue of Cleo to look at the breasts of models(!). This statement most accurately describes the skit and also presents its central problem - it was misguided. With all her confidence issues, she wants to be a woman of the millennium (a term she uses at least 3 times in ten minutes), what that is, I do not know, and I doubt if she does either. Oh well, nice try but hey...

We then meet the 3some (sorry, TNS) again. Actually they grace the stage every other item in the program. This time, they are supposed to be climbing a mountain. Alluding to Mt Everest and fast food, I am not entirely sure what this had to with evol, I mean love. It was however, one of the more inspired moments of set design in the show. Three actors climbing up three ropes, looking up to the usually unseen but now revealed ceiling of the Guinness Theatre, itself looking like the inside of a mountain peak if mountains were hollow.

>>'The audience that seemed to be made up of friends and family of cast and crew was very forgiving'

In the fourth piece, 'Love Defined', we were presented with a dancer trying to define love. I cannot comment on her dance, I am not a dance reviewer. Her monologue attempted to define love. The question is: "Is it really possible to define love?" After watching Lillian Thio, the aforementioned dancer, I am tempted to respond in the negative, which may have been her point, but I do not think so.

It was time for the 3some again; structure is so reassuring. Spoofing their way through the Tiger Beer commercial of men dreaming about adventurous sport, it was firstly quite amusing, secondly a delicious jibe at laddish beer commercials and thirdly not about love. Well, two out of really is not that bad. In the sixth piece, "The Object", we are presented with two people talking about the love of their lives. Unsure acting and direction notwithstanding, this piece was marred by technical flaws. It did unfold quite nicely though, the couple sounded like they were talking about each other, but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case: she is talking about a dog and he is talking about a car. It was clear that the actors were not entirely comfortable with the English language, or with the stage for that matter. The seventh piece was a song and a dance. I am qualified to review neither.

We were then chased out to the loo for the interval by a man playing chess with himself.

After the break, the 3some played Chinese chess. Expounding on strategies to win, this may have been supposed to be a parallel with winning someone's heart. If this was so, it was unclear. By this point though, the 3some had gained their performance rhythm and it was a fairly enjoyable scene to watch, if seemingly meaningless.

'Distance' followed with two couples on stage. One long distance, the other side by side on a beach. The long distance couple is madly in love, supposedly talking on the phone, albeit without telephones. They were problematic from the word go. Neither was really an actor, neither was comfortable with the language, both were badly lit. Love and expressions of love lose their tenderness and poignancy when proclaimed to an audience. The personal becomes a spectacle and a confidence becomes an address. This unfortunate coupling was juxtaposed against the evening's single spark of brilliance. A couple named Daniel and Kitty bickering and loving their way into everybody's heart. True, there was a certain "secondary school skit" feel to it, but the actors spoke lines that were at once so real and so off kilter, in a delivery that was theatrical yet believable. The couple milked every joke for all it was worth effortlessly. Yes, beauty exists in the heartland and they are hilarious proof. This general uplift was carried through when the 3some reappeared in what was probably the climax of their performance that evening. Sitting in a row massaging each other, it was so ridiculous it was fun.

By this point, I stopped looking for a link between their antics and the theme of love, which was probably just as well - there did not seem to be one. 'Genesis', the twelfth that night was a pas de deux with a woman in pink and a man in black. Again I am not qualified to review this.

The evening ended with 'Synopsis', the 3some synopsising something, that was about it. Perhaps the largest problem with EVOL was the fact that the actors never seemed to be confident in English as a performance language. Most could not get their tongues around their lines or so over-enunciated as to sound like pastors preaching at rallies. In most cases, scripts were written in "proper" English, which resulted in speech patterns that veered toward unusual at best and downright weird at worst. Only twice was Singlish really attempted, and to wildly different effect. It was wonderfully successful in the case of Daniel and Kitty, placing them specifically in Singapore and informing the audience clearly of the characters' culture. In 'The Object' however, it was an absolutely jarring pain. It was used by an actor who did not seem to be somebody who speaks it at all, he merely used some of its more obvious elements and tacked it together crudely resulting in some unknown hybrid language/dialect. Singlish as it is spoken on the street can be charming, anything else comes across as a mockery.

The second problem after language was that none of the performers were really actors. The Guinness Theatre is an incredibly intimate space, a fact seemingly lost on almost all involved in the show. Opting for an almost oratorical style most of the time, the cast delivered speeches rather than monologues and acting was reduced to a recitation of text while stand (or sitting) in the right place. This may have worked in larger venues, but with an audience only three meters away at most, disbelief could hardly ever be suspended, except with some notable exceptions, namely Daniel and Kitty, the New Millennium Woman and one third of the 3some. With acting so severely compromised, it is hard to judge the scripts. They were about love, but very literally. A show that touted it self in its programme as a "new millennium look at love" should have presented something new or at least an alternative to old clichés. Neither was present, unless that was the point: that in the new millennium, nothing has changed about love - but I do not think that this was the point that the show was trying to make. Indeed, different perspectives were not presented at all, only that to be in love is wonderful and to not be in love with a person is horrible. When the show was not literally about how wonderful it is to be in love and how horrible it is not to be in love, the show did not seem to be about love at all. Perhaps theatrExprezz was trying to suggest or insinuate alternative visions of love, but this reading was never explicit nor did it ever seem intended.

As a show, EVOL was not a unified whole, rather it seemed to present different voices, which is fine except that it does run the risk of descending into being a variety show. Which is what EVOL felt like in the end, a variation of TCS 8 Econ Night hosted by Chen Sucheng and Sharon Au, or worse, the chronicles of Liang Xi Mei.

The audience that seemed to be made up of friends and family of cast and crew was very forgiving though, lapping up all the comedy, which I might add did work quite well, and overlooking all the glitches. This definitely helped the show along. As I stated in the first part of this review, artistic merit, while being worked towards, did not appear to be the goal of this production. Rather, it seemed to be fellowship among those who produced the show. And this came through with the sincerity and enthusiasm of all involved, including front-of-house helpers who greeted all with a smile and a cheerful salutation.

This became even clearer in the end when in the curtain call, the cast were congratulating each other and whooping with joy. I realised that this review would probably be superfluous - as far as the cast was concerned, the show was a success and I could not possibly agree more.