>PEER PLEASURE by The Necessary Stage M1 Youth Connection

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 14 mar 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: unrated

>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.


It must be said that writing, conceptualising and directing a play that involves young amateur student performers performing for their peers - fellow young students -- is difficult. The script must be relevant, topical and interesting: ideas that are developed must not be too simplistic if not the potential audience will become indifferent to it; abstract ideas that are too difficult must be made bite-sized for the audience to digest, so that the young audience will be provoked to think. Meanwhile, direction must allow for the short attention span of the MTV generation by relying on lively action or greater physical movement to get the message across, while at the same time maintaining a spirited pace. The young actors on the other hand, because of their relative inexperience must project and infuse the production with vibrant energy and eager participation.

Credit must thus be given to The Necessary Stage and the teachers and students from Bukit Batok Secondary School and East View Secondary School who took part in this year's M1 Youth Connection of PEER PLEASURE. 'Lanterns Never Go Out' by East View Secondary School and 'Over The Wall' by Bukit Batok Secondary School were both challenging pieces of theatre that were suitably complex so that the intelligence of the students for whom they were performed for was not insulted, nor were they too obtuse for this young audience whom for a large part have not attended a play before. And it has to be said that all of this was done without alienating any of the adults who went to watch PEER PLEASURE as well.

'Lanterns Never Go Out' is about the trials and tribulations of a 15-year old girl writ large. This central protagonist, named Kah Wai, suffers from social and familial pressures to do well in school, so as to ensure a successful future in qualification-entrenched Singapore. It was quite obvious that the students contributed in various aspects to the play, be it the sexual or peer politics in a secondary school -as seen in hilarious sequences in which the various stages of first love and first breakup were presented - or the burdens and constant strain of being a young teenager growing up in the rigid education system of Singapore. These were made tangible in vignettes of high drama where relatives and neighbours of Kah Wai encircled her, each pointing at her while telling her the things she has to do or not do in order to do well for the coming 'O Levels', or where the cast on their knees started to crawl around her as she tried to escape from this mass of moving bodies who chanting in unison, taunted and accused her of not doing well enough.

>>'It was very refreshing to see these young students being able to deal and confront these difficult issues in a mature and coherent manner'

All of these were interposed with surreal scenes of Kah Wai talking to the celestial star that has been shining for her from young, by which she tries to make her wishes come through and through which she finally learns to cope with the various stressful problems that she is going through. Though it has to be said that the ending was a little too pat, the pressures too easily resolved, this was a piece of theatre that bespoke of the problems and pressures faced by the teenagers of today.

'Over The Wall' has a more complex and challenging subject matter. An island enclosed from the outside by a wall, the people living on it are content with their lives, never asking or questioning why the wall has been placed there, or more importantly what is beyond it. A nameless system, a tradition that has never been questioned (this was constantly repeated in a mantra - 'my father had no problems with it and so I don't have problems with it'), this very wall was to be challenged by a young woman brave enough to do so. Yet despite her attempts to rally the islanders to her cause to find out what was on the other side of the wall, she could never wake the apathy of these islanders who were indifferent as to what might actually be out there. And so she starts to live by herself, isolated from society and deemed crazy by the rest of the islanders.

This play could be read in so many ways. An education system that limits the potential of its students by its strict examination laws and narrow mindset of what makes a good student --in short one that does not produce the thinking student but the rote learning one. A society that does not produce people who dare to think beyond constraints and limitations placed before them - in short one that does not produce entrepreneurs. A system that perhaps places too much control on its citizens such that they are unable to think for themselves. It has to be said that the ending of the play - where this courageous and by then old woman, decides to build a catapult to fly her way across the formidable barrier - was too abrupt as there was no proper build-up to this climatic scene where the old woman finally gains her physical and mental freedom. But nevertheless, it was very refreshing to see these young students being able to deal and confront these difficult issues in a mature and coherent manner.

So we have it then - two schools who managed to put on two well performed student-motivated, student based and ultimately student related plays. This was not only in part due to the professional help of The Necessary Stage who ensured that the two plays were seamlessly produced, but for a large part was due to the enthusiasm and contagious energy of the students involved.