>LOVE IMPRISONMENT by Intersection Music Lab

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 29 jan 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.


What do you expect when you watch a musical nowadays? You expect to be moved, of course. Yet you are moved simply because musicals overwhelm. Not only are you visually stunned by the lavish sets, large cast and snappy dance routines, but you are also overpowered by the emotions writ large on stage, a result of the larger-than-life quality and escapist nature of musicals. After all, emotions are expressed and portrayed in a song and dance, and any emotion not rendered as such is simply ignored or overshadowed. Together with the tendency of the songs to be over-dramatic - where even personal songs are sung on an epic scale - subtlety is lost and the tragedy becomes more tragic and the comedy more comical.

Let me now say that LOVE IMPRISONMENT, a Chinese musical by Intersection Music Lab (a sub-group under the Toa Payoh West Youth Executive Committee) does not overwhelm you. It does not have a large cast, a lavish set or funky dance numbers. What it does instead is to charm you into its world because of the simplicity in its staging and the intimacy that this allows. You are invited to enter their world, a world not of prima donnas or overblown characters, but of real characters, made even more real because of the Singaporean context the musical is in.

The musical is based on a story of a man's imprisonment by his constant search for true love, a search that finally leads him into jail and the death penalty. The script was melodramatic (especially the fact that the hero in the story was sentenced to death because of his successful attempt at euthanasia) - but like the Chinese serials on TCS 8, this was entertaining melodrama which constantly hinted at a liveliness bubbling beneath it. Moreover, there was sense of naivety that propelled the narrative, an absence of self-consciousness on the part of the characters that allowed your suspension of disbelief.

>>'The script was supported by numerous well-written songs that were filled with catchy choruses and heartfelt lyrics'

The script was supported by numerous well-written songs that were filled with catchy choruses and heartfelt lyrics. And these songs were sung with a touching sincerity by most of the cast. Guo Fei was emotionally moving with his deep baritone voice as the lead character, while Lin Jingmin oozed sensuality from her every pore as the vamp with her throaty voice. Lin Shiyun on the other hand was quite hilarious in her roles as the inquisitive hostel mate and the bossy office worker.

However, what I was most offended by was the portrayal of the 'ah qua' or the effeminate queen in LOVE IMPRISONMENT -- in this case the character, Lin Fengjiao was the ruling 'princess' at the jail which the lead character was sent to in the end. This token character was used simply to be played for laughs, a careless portrayal that used every cliché and stereotype to allow the audience to laugh at him, never with him. Lin Weichai as the flamboyant Lin Fengjiao was grating with his high-pitched nasal voice and overtly limp movements. It seemed that the only way to make this character easily accepted by the audience, was to depict him as vain, superficial and emasculated, one who had no emotional depth and who wasn't threatening to any form of masculinity.

Yet how does one suppose that the presence of this gay character necessarily mean that its director and writer suppose such characterisation to be true of all gays? The critic Gilbert Adair once said that a writer/director is able to negatively portray a gay character only if this manner is not a cliché, which in this case it was. Moreover, considering other recent gay characters on stage - Kumar as Poppy the hairdresser in 'My Lonely Tarts' played his part with a sense of touching drollness and irony while Darren Seah as Gregg in the recent 'Mr Beng', despite its somewhat flawed politics, asserted his right to be who he wanted to be - it seems quite insulting that LOVE IMPRISONMENT had to resort to such a portrayal simply for cheap laughs.

It also has to be said that towards the end, the musical started to drag. This was due in part to the fact that there was no interval during this 1 hour 45 min performance, and that there wasn't any large song and dance number but a series of similar well sung songs, making the musical seem strangely un-climactic. Moreover, the back stage crew was highly inept - they took a very long time to change the sets in between the scenes, and at times brought out the wrong number of items for a particular scene. And this inexperience or lack of professionalism was also revealed in the faulty sound system that went off a couple of times.

And at times like this, you start to wish for a slick and polished musical which simply overwhelms.