>NEWS THEATRE by Drama Box

>reviewed by judy tan

>date: 26 oct 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: drama box's studio theatre
>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.


This collaborative piece was about the above - and more. The eight performers brought you through the narrative of a "typical" day in the high-activity newsroom yet delve into so much more than just what makes the day's headlines.

What started out as a light-hearted interpretation was enhanced by the sit-com style opening credits flashed across a projection screen positioned above the tiny catwalk stage. The use of multi-media proved to be well-thought out throughout the play, as it ran a complementary narrative to what went on on the 'live' stage. Although the artistic director emphasied the collaborative and improvisational element of the production, it blithely escaped the pitfall of many collaborative efforts: of not having a cohesive narrative for the audience to access the production.

In this case, the production was termed a "presentation", to underline it as an in-process work and all the actors were known as collaborators in the programme. Indeed, in the post-show discussion it was revealed that the starting point for each day's performance was the newspaper articles brought in by the cast which were then subsequently woven into the overall narrative of the production. On this level, certain layers emerged from such daily evolution, which reflected the play's very core issue: the constantly changing world of news production.

The production is built upon the tripartitie "mission statement" of the press-media, expressed as information, education and entertainment - the skeleton on which the entire play is fleshed out. Loosely divided into 3 sections over the hour and a half, each segment illustrated to some extent the role or position of the press as tools for these 3 purposes. Concurrently, the projection screen doubled-up either as bulletin board to display important news clippings of certain events, or as an electronic diary of events.

>>'This thought-provoking piece left one wondering about the reported truth we receive daily and ensured that one might not look at the newspapers in the same way again'

The first segment took a look at the recently-implemented policy of monetary incentives for couples to have more children. It took a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the glossy media coverage, by playing up a mime of the picture-perfect family life, (similar to those seen in many prime-time television ads), with perfect parents and perfect children, moving with precise synchronicity to a voice-over by the narrator. This constructed scenario soon starts to fall apart in front of our very eyes, as strains of the "happy family" tune fade away.

Following this comes a segment delving into Singapore's political history. A family squabble set against the political instability of the 1960s sees the family torn in different directions. In a comic turn, different interpretations of how the events will turn out are offered by different actors taking on the role of the director. This offers different perspectives and outcomes to the same situation, with the role of the mother being the pivotal one. Unfortunately, this repetition of the scene became tedious after the third round. In one sequence, Danny Yeo's portrayal of a self-sacrificing single mother trying to hold her family together during this political crisis induced a fair amount of mirth from the audience because of his deliberately melodramatic handling.

Many of the political issues, such as the education policy and the contrast between the East and the West, were certainly worth exploration because of their powerful long-term relevance to Singapore. The strongest expression of the juxtaposition of the older Chinese-educated generation and the younger English-educated generation came across in the first segment, as a Western-educated daughter spouts in English to her Mandarin-speaking family about fighting for true democracy while insisting on using a fork and spoon to eat instead of the traditional chopsticks. However, an inconsistency whereby the traditional mother speaks perfect English to her apparently errant daughter mars this brilliant contrast.

A scene that hit close to home was one that touched on the issue of self-censorship through a representation of a Speaker's Corner scenario. In a reflection of the movie "Wag the Dog" (whereby an artificial truth is manufactured for a mass audience), an impassioned young reporter keen on telling the "truth" is repeatedly redirected and corrected by her seniors in the newsroom to rewrite and refocus, such that the voices of these speakers are no longer heard distinctly but are lost in the eventual deafening silence. The projector finally showed the caption " we can't hear them, it's like a fish market" and the last 5 words were subsequently slowly masked over.

Entertainment news ruled during the final segment, where bogus (yet identifiable) local television personalities were used to make a point about the advertising power of the media. The reader taken in by the hype blindly purchases the goods these celebrities hawk . In a subtle yet astute final gesture, the same reader then sells these paraphernalia, as well as the newspapers off to the "garang-guni" man. Is time fickle or is man fickle?

In retrospect, there was a metaphorical suggestion of the disintegration and cheapening of the press and media as the workday drew to an end, for what started out with high hopes of newsworthy, important articles slowly degenerated into entertainment tidbits, with the paper choosing to cover relatively frivilous yet economically-viable entertainment hype instead.

The cast was engaging and exhibited great chemistry. The performance of Li Xie was especially thrilling, carried out believably, in her execution of myriad roles ranging from a disillusioned cub reporter to a idealistic Westernised daughter of a traditional Chinese family.

All in all, the audience would have left with an impression of growing dissatisfaction in artists over the role of the press media in Singapore, especially as far as political freedom and freedom of speech was concerned. As the last of the cast left the stage with utterances of what they hoped for the future of the press, the underlying tone seemed that of resignation. In any case, this thought-provoking piece left one wondering about the reported truth we receive daily and ensured that one might not look at the newspapers in the same way again.