>THEY STUMBLE THAT RUN FAST by Singapore Broadway Playhouse

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 11 mar 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: NUS LT13
>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.


Let me say that in some perverse way, I did enjoy certain aspects of THEY STUMBLE THAT RUN FAST, a play that adapted Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' by setting the pair of star crossed lovers, Ryan and Julie in a Singapore context, with the two warring households being that of the Wong family and the D'Cruz family along Sixth Avenue.

The enjoyment I derived came from the fact that this shallow and silly play was on the level that it was so bad that it was good. Everything was so ridiculous that the drama-tragedy became quite farcical and it was very funny to watch the events unfold on stage.

The main problem was that the script was tedious and aimless in the extreme, with nothing very much to say. It was neither funny nor dramatic, but limped its way through the predictable plot. There was a tendency of the play to be pulled in two directions. On one hand, the play sets itself specifically in Singapore, what with the Hello Kitty reference, or the references to Sixth Avenue, or to the fact that Ryan D'cruz runs away to Kusu Island (no, really) after killing the Tybalt figure in the play.

But on the other hand, there were so many plot holes that didn't fit or were not explained by this recontextualisation. Why are there still arranged marriages in the Chinese Singaporean family? Yes such marriages are rare in Singapore, but because they are rare, shouldn't there be a reason for it, as in the case of the arranged marriage Julie and Jerome, the Paris figure in the original Shakespearean play? And it seemed strange that Jerome wants and desires to marry Juliet without ever having really spoken to her at all. What is his motivation - money, prestige? It is never mentioned and the audience, as to the large part of the play, is constantly left guessing.

>>'The main problem was that the script was tedious and aimless in the extreme, with nothing very much to say.'

Or in the programme, it was noted that the script intended to highlight the way 'modern technology such as radio, television and mobile phones prevent or propel the tragic fate' of the lovers. Fair enough. But it seemed strange that no character had a hand-phone. If Ryan and Julie were really from rich families, and with the accessibility of obtaining one in Singapore, why didn't both of them own mobile phones? A simple call would have solved everything - there would be no need for middlemen to pass messages or to have the tragic misunderstanding of Julie's death. Or having an illiterate servant from the Wong family deliver invitations to a party by hand is critical as it is only this way which Ryan and his friends are able to gatecrash the party in the beginning of the play. I'm sorry, but would not a person ask his servant to simply post them? Or having lost the priest's namecard, Ryan on Kusu Island is unable to contact him about Julie's apparent death. Would he not then try to find this number through the telephone directory - after all the priest works in a religious institution - or call someone and ask the person for it? It seemed that it is the absence of modern technology rather than its use of it that resulted in the tragedy, yet unless the characters belong to the Amish group, this disregard for its use was never explained, what more since the play is set in the technology hub that is Singapore?

Yes, it might be said that I am nit picking and that these plot devices are needed to propel the narrative along, but they seem so desperately contrived, so highly illogical, that they demand a great effort on the part of the audience for a willing suspension of our disbelief. It seemed that the script in trying too hard to follow the demands of the original plot, plot cohesion and unity was ignored. And because these gaping holes in the plot is set in conflict with the tangible reality of the Singapore setting, a ludicrous and almost surreal quality is added to the slipshod writing.

Moreover, if 'modern technology' was in part one of the focuses of the play, would it not be more interesting and relevant if this included the Internet? Say, if Ryan and Julie met each other anonymously through the IRC, after which they discover that oh no, they are from different sides of the 2 feuding families of Singapore, it would have made the their relationship more believable and its development more convincing.

And this brings us to the other main problem of the play - the characters in the play were so one dimensional that they seemed cartoon-ish. Not only were they on the most part without motivation and thus highly unbelievable, but character development was nearly absent, such that they seemed highly irrational and volatile. In the case of Julie, after meeting Ryan, she realises in a moment that she's in love, and in the next she decides she has to marry him. Just like that. It was so abrupt that for a moment I thought that there were two characters on stage or that this was another play. Mind you, this is a girl whom we were told has studied overseas and therefore one assumes, has a certain level of maturity, but the sudden equation of discovery of first love to the impulse of getting married immediately simply boggles the mind.

This criticism has also been levelled at Baz Lurhman's film adaptation of 'Romeo and Juliet'. If the society depicted on screen is so decadent, why does its Romeo and its Juliet want to marry each other immediately and why do they decide to marry first before sleeping together? In the film, the reason implied through the constant and almost suffocating religious images and iconography - be it the towering Christ like figure in the middle of the city or the numerous crucifixes that surrounds Juliet's bed - is that this is a society where religion has immense power, such that it is the logical thing to do. This question however, was not at all addressed in THEY STUMBLE THAT RUN FAST, and even its religious overtones were simply an adjunct to the plot.

Or in the character of Mr Wong, who is depicted as the typical patriarch of the traditionally Chinese Wong family but yet one assumes is a Christian, as their family has a chapel. Unless the script was trying to imply that he was an Old Testament father figure, this did not sit well with what was portrayed as his overt links to his Chinese cultural roots and tradition. And because of these inherent contradictions which make these characters appear not complex but simply weirdly comical and exaggerated, the audience is on a large part unable to sympathise with any of them.

Given the fact that the characters were quite implausible and the actors were not professional, it has to be said that the actors did put on a good show, with Joshua Chiang as the Mercutio figure giving a highly spirited performance. Yet for a large part of the performance, a sense of energy was missing, a vitality and intensity that would have made the characters at least likeable.

It is interesting that the end of the play - some might say the most poignantly tragic part -- was performed without words. The death of Ryan, Julie's awakening from her 'death', her subsequent killing of herself upon the discovery of Ryan's death and the eventual arrival of both families were simply acted out. It seemed that the production realising how bad it was, was embarrassed to continue further and decided to quickly end this tortuous affair, a move that was perhaps the smartest one made in the whole evening.