>THE TOWER OF SILENCE by Aporia Society

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 10 dec 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness 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.

>>>>>silent scream

In Aporia Society's latest production, THE TOWER OF SILENCE, five JC friends meet again after eight years' career/family/distance-induced separation. They have been brought together by Kent, a freelance journalist and frustrated wannabe author, apparently in order to help Sharon, one of their number, who has fallen into a paranoid depression. As events unfold and the friends' rusty relationships are tested further, they begin to wonder whether Sharon is right to be paranoid.

The play was very much about watching and being watched, so it was fitting that three black and white TVs should have been positioned on the stage, each showing a different view of the on-stage action, reminiscent of security monitors. However, appropriate as they were, they proved to be an under-utilized resource. The sense of voyeurism created by the cameras gave director Wong Kwang Han a lot of scope for dramatic irony which he ignored; and having three electronic audiences to play to as well as the human one out front presented the cast with a hundred different possibilities which, equally, they seemed unaware of. The screens just sat there, the cameras recorded indifference, and a promising idea had been deemed sufficient and abandoned in its incompletion.

This was to become a theme. It appeared that, like the monitors, the concept of staging had been thought about briefly, and then left to fend for itself. Several chairs, facing in various directions, had been arranged in roughly a square with one more in the middle. Their positioning encouraged neither intimacy nor alienation, and the square itself was vaguely constrictive without being claustrophobic and without adding any sense of place or purpose. On this non-set, actors occasionally and cursorily mimed props (a glass of water from some specious kitchen; a jacket from an absent wardrobe) but the mimes were neither convincing nor consistent (considering how paranoid Sharon was supposed to be, it was odd that she never bothered to lock her door - nor, for that matter, did she even appear to have one). And as for the rest of the staging, it was by turns so nondescript and uncomfortable that the piece might as well have been a radio play. Wong had plainly suffered from the actor-director's curse of not being able to see what he was doing.

>>'THE TOWER OF SILENCE was rather like its more famous cousin at Pisa. The foundations had not been properly laid and, along with its over-wrought architecture, it was pretty much falling over.'

Which left him free to concentrate on the audio. The script for THE TOWER OF SILENCE had been the product of workshopping, and three of the actors were credited for it in the programme. As far as the sound was concerned, they had done well, creating an idiolect that retained the spontaneity of its improvisational roots and managed to sound refreshingly unstagey without appearing out of place in a theatre. The same could not be said for the script's mechanics - characters, plot, pacing - which, again, presented initial promise before leading to disappointment, but this time for a different reason: just as the toddler's workaholic father will buy her a Mercedes when she turns eighteen, it soon became clear that while the company had neglected certain areas, it had overcompensated in others.

Quite simply, there was too much going on - each character had a story to tell, usually at extreme and repetitive length in a monologue. At the start, this was reasonably interesting, but it quickly became apparent that you can have much too much of a middling thing. And patterns began to develop. It seemed that a scene could only belong to one of two categories: the aforementioned monologues or arguments, both of which were far too fond of obvious and clumsy exposition. There was, however, something to be said for some of the arguments, especially at the start. The actors weren't afraid to shout over each other - they weren't overly worried about preserving the sanctity of each line or even whether they could be heard. This was refreshingly unstagey, but it became clear that this was the only tune they could sing - the only note, in fact. Characters were brought onto the stage in different pairs and, after increasingly brief preambles, they started shouting at each other. There was no recognition that an argument can take other, less blatant forms and each time the same events would recur. The aggressor would psychologically torture his/her victim using unpleasant events in their past as ammunition and, despite the already documented tendency for doors to be unlocked, and despite there being no earthly reason to stay and put up with this abuse, the victim would remain, all the while feebly enunciating lines such as "No, stop", "Don't" or "Why are you doing this?" I had to wonder myself.

Two of the characters, Sharon and Kent (played by Davin Gill and Wong Kwang Han respectively), were consistently the aggressors in these unpleasant baiting matches, and whereas Sharon was shown to have reasons for her malice, Kent didn't seem to have any. It was nice to see a character with no apparent motivation, who hurt people just because he wanted to. But this attempt at an Iago was too unsubtle to be believable, despite Wong's relatively competent acting - at the stage where it became clear that he was an evil, manipulative sociopath, anyone in his or her right mind would walk away and never speak to him again.

Wong's was perhaps the best acting on display in a cast with a certain amount of naturalness but no range. The women all had their moments, but irritated by delivering half their lines with tears in their voices, and Tan Tow Ming as Kong was like a tap where the water pressure's too high - emotionally speaking, he was either totally turned off or so on that it drenched the bathroom floor. But the main problem was that they collectively failed to convey any sense that they were friends. Thus the aggression, the manipulation and the emotional blackmail all seemed utterly inappropriate.

So THE TOWER OF SILENCE was rather like its more famous cousin at Pisa. The foundations had not been properly laid and, along with its over-wrought architecture, it was pretty much falling over. Aporia Society needs to get its balance right: if it can hone down its top-heavy ideas and firm up its theatrical base, there's enough talent for its next tower to be a lot straighter.