>autumn tomyam by action theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 17 aug 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>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.


I first heard snippets of AUTUMN TOMYAM in 1999 and to say that I was amazed by what I heard wouldn't be much of an exaggeration. It was funny, clever and most of all it had heart - lots of it. Raw human emotion surged through the air as the characters spilled their guts about love and life. It didn't feel like they were products of some playwright's mind but rather actual people talking to you about their lives - it was that real, that intimate for me.

Yet watching the finished play in its entirety made me wonder if finishing it was such a good idea after all. The voices no longer sounded so real and the setting no longer that intimate. It was as if the characters all grew up and forgot what they really wanted to say.

The awkward staging of the play was certainly no help. Entire scenes were literally brought to the audience as mini-stages on three sides of the stage were pushed out every time there was a change of scene. While it was impressive during the few times it was done right (it brought back Miss Saigon déjà vu), it was distracting and painful when it was not done as well - the jarring mechanical click and the actor's amusing sudden balancing act as the stage came to a halt was disconcerting to say the least. Moreover with so many scene changes in the production, the lengthy wait for each change sagged and dragged down the energy level.

>>'Was it really simply too hard to convince the audience that Tid really wasn't the conniving thief everybody thought he was and that they sincerely loved each other? '

Direction was nebulous at times as certain scenes left the audience wondering if the scene was even worth the wait for the next scene change. The scene where Marge talked to Joe in the park about Tid leaving seemed strangely muted and redundant if not for the nuanced performance of Tan Kheng Hua. Staging at times lacked imagination creating a static composition of scenes - the scene where Anna bribed Tid was flat and lacking considering the emotional developments the scene was establishing.

Acting was uneven as some of the cast had problems immersing themselves into their roles. Edwin Lai's stage inexperience showed even as he tried valiantly to portray Tid as more than just another money grubbing toy boy. However his lack of emotional range made it hard to see beyond Thai go-go-boy exotica. Tan Kheng Hua and John O'May got off to a slow start in terms of getting a grasp of their respective roles. Thankfully, though, they soon steadied themselves and delivered wonderfully layered performances that held the audience's attention for the night. Especially touching were the chemistry between them as they brought out the autumn in their relationship.

The script in itself suffered from a mild sense of schizophrenia as it grappled with mammoth issues of colonialisation, sexual politics and postmodern sexuality. The crux of the play may have been the love between a 19-year-old Thai boy and a Caucasian man old enough to be his father, but it does an about turn by questioning Tid's very own sexuality. While the transition was sufficiently masked by wise cracks about Joe suffering his wife's fate in discovering his lover's reversed sexuality, the abrupt change in premise smelled of a copout. Was it easier to explain Tid staying with Joe out of gratitude so that everybody can rationalise this western imperialistic pairing? Was it really simply too hard to convince the audience that Tid really wasn't the conniving thief everybody thought he was and that they sincerely loved each other?

All said and done, I did have a good time watching it. The biting one-liners were still there to make you laugh out loud and the playwright's grasp of his characters provoked incisive observations of human nature that were impressive in their perceptiveness. The play had its moments, no doubt - it was witty, smart and endearing when all its elements came together.

"What you want and you get is no same same - what you get is better." (Tid)

Well not this time Tid but I do hope after a few ironing outs sessions, AUTUMN TOMYAM will be.