>WASH CUT AND BLOW by Paparazzi Productions

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 4 aug 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>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.

>>>>>Tell me your secrets

Let me say right from the start that Paparazzi Productions is not a professional theatre company. It is part of the Communications Studies Club from Nanyang Technological University and as such its members - including actors and directors - all come from said department. It then has to be said that WASH, CUT AND BLOW, the latest offering by Paparazzi Productions, was a brave and often perceptive play that tried to reveal the humanity of the underdog in Singaporean society. And it was in this aspect of giving not only a voice but a face to the marginalised of Singapore - be it gays, effeminate men, working class people, lonely housewives, estranged fathers and sons - that the play was a successful hybird of laugh-aloud comedy and emotional melodrama. But it also has to be said that the full potential and energy of the young cast and crew was not fully developed, such that WASH, CUT AND BLOW was not the edgy and raw piece of visceral theatre that it could have been.

Set in a hairdressing salon, the play centred around the strained relationship between the salon owner and his son, the latter trying to sell the shop to a real estate agent. Throw in a cast of dramatically interesting characters - the closeted homosexual, the effeminate queen, the Malaysian 'Ah-Lian' who tries to earn enough money for her family, the 'Tai Tai' who simply wants to be loved -- and you have the dramatic thrust of WASH, CUT AND BLOW. (Actually there are many similarities in plot between the play and Drama Box's 'Áh Beng - The Musical', right down to the bit about the Malaysian girl who returns home, that make you go hmmm…..) Characters soon start to reveal their neuroses, their hidden fears, their darkest desires and wishes.

It was fascinating to see what made these characters tick beneath the stereotypical roles they were forced to perform in society. Yet this insistent need to overturn the clichés soon became a cliché in itself - every character seemed to have a secret to tell the audience and like an overworked psycho-analysist, we were forced to listen to them. These revelations were told through surreal asides and monologues - which provided a point of focus to these specific parts but also diluted the dramatic impetus of the main plot. The constant breaks to delve into the characters were too numerous to maintain plot momentum.

And this resulted in the lack of tension throughout the play, a tension that was needed to break the contrivances of the at-times too predictable plot. Without this necessary frission within the play, there was an absence of the longed-for ruptures and disruptions that occur, when inner turmoil clash and intersect with the socially constructed facades these characters put on. Where were the little but ground-shaking emotional earthquakes that threatened to overpower the social forms that contained these marginalised misfits?

>>'a courageous attempt by non-professionals at producing a theatrical performance'

The star of the performance belonged to the camp head hairdresser, Lawrence. Played to whiny perfection by Daen Ng, he stole the show with his bitchy one-liners and witty retorts. Promisingly, the portrayal of this effeminate hairdresser seemed to have gone beyond the stereotype by suggesting that the camp, carnivalesque energy exuded was a subversive reaction to the hetero-normativity of Singapore society but you later realised as the play wore on that the writers of the play had actually written Lawrence more simply as just a straight man trapped in an effeminate body.

And it has to be said that it was this that I was most offended by - without the necessary development of this character (who was mainly used throughout as a form of comic relief), this revelation was simply too abrupt. Any form of dark complexity or hint of depth initially seen in the portrayal of Lawrence, were simply mitigated by this too sudden assertion of heterosexuality. And when the crowd cheered as Lawrence started to court a girl by holding her hand and later hugging her, you couldn't help but feel that what the crowd was cheering for, was the re-establishment of their safe little heterosexual world. Hey it's alright, don't worry! It seems that what every person caught in the margins of society wants to be is normal (in this case, heterosexual). To quote the title of a Black Grape album, it seems that it's only great when you're straight.

Meanwhile, the rest of the young and energetic cast were highly adept in their roles -- in particular, Lee Hui Chieh gave a poignant performance as the frustrated 'Tai Tai' who tried desperately to get her life back together.

There were no happy endings to this play, no sense of a closure with the tying up of lose ends, no deus ex machina to create an unnatural ending. And it was indeed brave of the play to attempt to use this form of non-cathartic theatre. But without the dramatic momentum to provide a requisite build up, the audience was not left 'hanging' - there wasn't any need for us to find a sense of relief by searching for our own answer.

Despite all its drawbacks, WASH CUT AND BLOW was a courageous attempt by non-professionals at producing a theatrical performance, and it was indeed encouraging to see the potential within this performance.