>IS THIS OUR STOP? by The Necessary Stage

>reviewed by amanda koh

>date: 25 feb 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: tyhe visitors' centre at suntec city
>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.


IS THIS OUR STOP? (ITOS) is yet another exploration of the metaphysical landscape of the human psyche characteristic of TNS's avante garde genre of plays in its abstract psychological themes and concerns, concretizing them into tangible elements that both audience and actors may physically explore in the theatrical context.

Where else, would an protagonist on the brink of choosing her life paths be confronted by the personification of her various alter egos and enter into discourse with them to resolve her dilemma? Only in a TNS production.

As a theatrical event, ITOS is a vast improvement from its predecessors like 'Brainstorm' (Sept 1999) in that its plot was more digetically and thematically focused. Although the play bordered on the somewhat abstract, it was also able to achieve an equilibrium between harnessing the power of the stage to stimulate the intellectual in us all, as well as to provide for a night's entertainment on somewhat everyday issues of life's choices for the audience member who wants to sit back and watch the play unfold.

The innovative staging of the play within a moving bus saw the actors not only interacting with the mise en scene of the bus's interior, but also with the outside. No longer merely a bus but imaginatively transformed into a plane ascending and descending always when the bus was physically moving up or down a slope. That characters made their exits by alighting the bus reinforced the idea of interacting with the enormous performance space which was not only the interior of the bus but also that of wherever the bus traveled to. The initial literal implication of the bus bringing the protagonist to her home and to her need to make the decision takes on greater universal concerns of the irreversible processes of life.

The diegetic momentum is pleasantly comfortable in bringing the audience both to and from the metaphysical realm. The tangible is first introduced to us at the start of the play - Tracy Tan on her way home on a bus and in a dilemma of what to do with her O Level results. The play moves to a new abstract level with the entrance of her alter egos who already through their personification subverts the audience's expectations of the literal. Ideas gradually move from simple "counting" games and various other absurdist elements and pulls the environment from the mere interior of a bus to the journey through the human mind moving the tempo to a heightened climax. Opinions are personified and their discourse leaves the protagonist in an even bigger confusion. The tempo slows as the alter-egos leave the scene and finally, darkness envelopes the performance space and the audience is left in the dark listening to a replay of the same conflict although now back to the tangible level of a girl talking to a radio DJ.

>>'Although less meandering than previous TNS performances, ITOS seemed to lose its focus midway through the play'

The use of a homogenous grammar of theatrical imagery gave the play a sense of unity despite its diverse concerns. The idea of flight literally in the embodiment of physical flight as well as flight from undesirable circumstances effectively juxtaposed the literal theme with the larger concern behind it all.

The male actor playing the female alter ego in relinquishing his façade and "wearing the pants" again not only highlighted the need to constantly conform to the demands placed on the individual by society, rather also the more abstract Grotowskian ideology of the individual playing various versions of himself to society.

The individual development of the various alter egos of Tracy Tan took on a somewhat Brechtian approach through taking various everyday situations and making the familiar strange. Taken out of their usual context, they bear new symbolism. The idea of 'eating' and the common situation of the flight attendant brought into the metaphysical level encompasses the idea of being metaphorically "devoured" by society. The style of enacting various stereotypical situations is somewhat remnant of Ovidia Yu's 'Three Fat Virgins Unassembled' although the two plays have different thematic concerns.

Like most TNS productions, ITOS over ambitiously attempts to accomplish too much in one play. The play lost its focus midway when it moved away from the subject at hand to touch on other element that although related to the protagonist as an adolescent. Bringing in issues like sexual awakening makes the plot lose its focus. Instead of being a play about decision making it highlights every possible dilemma that Tracy as a teenager could possibly face in her lifetime.

Although less meandering than previous TNS performances, ITOS seemed to lose its focus midway through the play but finally concluding well by providing closure to the plot. However, its resolution is open ended and open to the audience's interpretation which may have either positive or negative consequences because while some audience members like to be left with a intellectual morsel to chew on, others may find it all too convenient for the playwright.

What are we supposed to conclude when Tracy's best friend goes back to her house in her place to convey the news to her family and to make the decision? Are we to conclude that she adopts an idealized persona in the form of her 'best friend'? What ending does that provide to the play? That after all her discourse she timidly hides behind another persona never revealing the real Tracy Tan to the world?

The failure to provide a concrete stance on the concerns explored points to a certain cowardice in local theatre. While artistes dare to highlight seemingly controversial issues do not dare to make their own stance on them. To a certain extent, it breeds irresponsibility because Singapore after all is a society that is "afraid to think". Open endings do not provoke thought, rather, it leaves the Singaporean suitably confused both about theatre as well as the issues of the play.

IS THIS OUR STOP? not only questions the individual's dilemma of choices and decision making, rather it contributes to pushing Singaporean theatre to new heights. Its not just a bus journey but a journey to a greater understanding of the power of theatre and finding its intellectual role.