>the second 42 theatre festival (week four) by action theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 7 dec 2001
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>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.


My drama teacher used to make us reluctant students play this particular warm-up exercise: using the first person's facial expression as a platform, we would improvise on his facial expressions to weave an evolving storyline person by person, bit by bit. By the time the exercise reached the end of the human chain, a coherent and hopefully interesting plot would have been created with corresponding facial expressions.

Watching the various productions during the fourth week of the theatre festival, I felt as if I was back in the drama room looking at students making up stories as they go along, desperately trying to be witty, thought-provoking or most of the time both. The same feeling of randomness was there as many of the ideas seemed half-baked and conceived in a hurry without much thought going into it. It all seemed terribly informal and underworked, as if the productions were drafted during slumber parties ('Venus vs. Mars') or during a rambling artist's convention ('This Is Not an Apple').

'Venus vs. Mars' was terribly underdeveloped in many aspects of production. Filled with superficial (and not terribly funny) clichés of men ignoring their girlfriends to watch soccer and women resorting to lingerie to get their men excited, the situations and lines were vapid and much too predictable to generate any real insights in gender relationships. Not surprisingly the four actors didn't have much to work with when their characters were so one-dimensional without charm nor sophistication. Only James Seow tried to inject a little more complexity in his lad role while his co-actors merely raised their voices on cue at the punch lines to make them sound more interesting.

Thankfully it wasn't as painful as it could have been since the director made sure the tempo was suitably fast by omitting the usual scene changes. Clever touches like using the four corners of the stage to illuminate the relationship between the four characters and the almost Brechtian treatment carried the drama along swiftly.

>>'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.'

'This Is Not an Apple' started off well enough with sufficient smart one-liners to get the audience laughing - for the first five minutes. After that I started feeling like I was watching an unending rerun of indistinguishable characters in stock situational comedies. Just like 'Venus vs. Mars', originality was sorely lacking as platitudes were passed off as wisdom while vacuous characters milled around without any sense of direction. Genuine moments such as the feuding old couple arguing about their marriage were far and few. Furthermore, with some episodes almost devoid of dialogue, the laughs were largely dependent on a strong sense of physical comedy which was not the cast members' strong suit.

Luckily Adelina Ong made the night less dismal with her captivating portrayal of a schizophrenic woman suspected of murdering her husband. If you thought Jonathan Lim made good his two roles in the first week, watch out for Adelina's skillful manipulation of her many troubled personalities. Working very hard to make sure she got their individual emotional texture right, her versatility was only hampered by the limiting stage and lack of co-actors to engage with. Certainly the tepid script, without any surprises in character and plot development, didn't help.

As a festival dedicated to new talents and new works, it is hard to argue against the value of the theatre festival. After all everybody has to start (and most of the time suck) somewhere. The bone of contention is really the leeway given to these newbies in the name of artistic support and goodwill. After watching the four weeks, few productions impressed and many new actors and scripts could really have been worked on a lot more.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions - it's a pity the audience had to sit on the hot seat so many times through the festival.