>THE RAPE by Drama Box

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 18 may 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: 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.


Honore, a twentieth century British legal scholar and philosopher once said, 'Negotiations for sex are not like those for the rent of a house. There is often no definite state on which it can be said that the two have agreed to sexual intercourse. They proceed by touching, feeling, fumbling, by signs and words which are not generally in the form of a Roman stipulation.' In Drama Box's latest production, THE RAPE locates these vague sexual exchanges and nuances that beset adult flirtations, romantic trysts, and one-night-stands within the local youth culture, a culture in its eagerness to resemble the adult world is unable to fully comprehend the consequences of such sexual negotiations.

The play tells the story of what initially was innocent fun and harmless sexual bantering between six teenagers who went to a pub after their school's orientation. But spurred on not only by alcohol and drugs, but also by adolescent bickering, personal insecurities and a desire to act mature and sexually experienced, it became violent and brutal. The three guys, in order to win a competition to see who got laid first, took advantage of the semi-unconscious state of one of the girls who mistakenly consumed a drink that had been drugged. As such, all three guys took turns in raping her.

Meanwhile, surreal scenes that provided psychological insights to the various characters inter-cut the main narrative throughout. Through these sometimes funny, sometimes touching scenes, we were told stories of crushes on older girls and older men and the subsequent rejections, of trying to achieve sexual experience and being mocked for not having enough of this experience.

The stage with flashing disco lights and pounding techno music had all the paraphernalia of a hip club - the metal cylinder with carved pictures illuminated from within that acted as a table, the funky rubber tyres placed in the toilet of the pub, the dance floor that took the form of a road. Yet at the same time, with the untidy sprawl of the layout and colourful pieces of cardboard suspended in mid air that depicted teenage attire, this became a playground for the teenagers to revel in, fraught with sexual tension and attractive danger.

>>'the dramatic impetus sagged at certain points of the play, resulting in a lack of a proper build up to the climax of the rape scene'

THE RAPE managed to show that the word 'play' was operative in this world inhabited by teenagers -they were after all playing a part learnt from television, magazines and from observation. In their haste to grow up too fast too soon, they were acting out sexual roles -- be it the sexual predator or the ingenue who plays hard to get - that they were too young or immature to fully grasp the consequences or their implications.

The play revealed the teenage world as one that was besieged by insecurities and where every act is both pre-conceived and highly self-conscious, be it the brandishing of a pack of condoms as a mark of sexual experience or the use of a band-aid to cover a non existent love-bite. Fumbling in a world where they can obtain anything and everything from the Internet (as seen in a hilarious cybersex sequence between two of the characters) and where sexual relations was the ultimate prize to be won, the play skillfully and subtly asked: is the very denial of access to sexual encounters and not the act itself that makes it attractive to teenagers?

The cast convincingly conveyed the right amounts of youthful exuberance and forceful energy that was required. But at times, they lacked dramatic gravitas that would have anchored their characters and made these characters more convincing -- though it has to be said that both Joyce Ang as the brittle Janice who got raped in the end and Koh Shi Yu as the emotionally confused Carol who allowed her boyfriend to force himself on her, gave credible and adept performances.

Yet for all the enthusiasm of the cast, the Jubilee Hall with its much too open atmospherics did not provide the throbbing excitement and giddy rush that one has upon entering a club (though cleverly enough, upon entering the venue, your hand gets stamped as you would in a club). One wished that the play could have been set in a real pub or club, with its physical intimacy and the resulting greater emotional immediacy. On the other hand, with the emptiness of the club with only six people on stage, one is made acutely aware of how silly people look , act and dance in clubs. And for all the desire of the teenagers to act mature in such places, ironically, it is these places with the music, drugs and alcohol that adults frequent so as to lose themselves into a pre-lapsarian state.

Realism was maintained by the dialogue exchanged between the teenaged characters with its inane chatter and adolescent teasing, while the treatment of the subject of rape and sex wasn't heavy-handed. But it has to be said that even though certain events do have reverberations throughout one's life, the way the motivations of the characters were explained by a single flashback to his or her past was too pat and simplistic, making the characters appear one dimensional at times. Maybe in an attempt to provide dramatic momentum to its final climatic scene, the play only lasted 70 minutes without an interval, but a longer play might have given the playwright more time to reveal the complexities of the characters.

Perhaps it was the fact that there were two of them, but despite some nice directorial touches, some ideas were repeated too often; meanwhile there were too many concurrent activities in certain scenes, such that there was a lack of dramatic focus and the audience became distracted by the many singular actions that occurred on stage. In fact, during a scene in which one of the characters was telling a harrowing story of being abused by her boyfriend, another character was pogo-ing madly at the side, reducing the ability of the audience to concentrate on the story and diluting any form of audience sympathy for the former character.

And because of this, the dramatic impetus sagged at certain points of the play, resulting in a lack of a proper build up to the climax of the rape scene. And what should have been an emotionally tense scene became bathetic instead, where one could hear some members of the audience trying hard to suppress a giggle.

In an interview, Kok Heng Leun, the artistic director of Drama Box, said that he is a proponent of non-cathartic theatre: 'I find that young people are not questioning and asking enough […] I try not to make my endings easy - there will be no catharsis. I want to stir the emotions up, without providing the relief in tears and crying. I want the ending to my productions to raise more questions and not to provide answers that are comfortable.'

The ending of THE RAPE did not provide a comfortable ending where the rapists were punished — instead the characters appeared to be unaffected by the event and carried on with their mundane, everyday lives. But what could have been a play that would have made the audience raise questions and provide answers on their own perspective, could only do so much without the requisite climax and more believable characters.