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

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 17 nov 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>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.


I feared for the worst when the programme sheet announced that we would only be let out at 11.15pm - almost four hours after the start of the first performance.

Fortunately ACTION Theatre seems to have found the right mix of lightweight entertainment and heavy drama for the festival, or for the first week at least. Unlike the maiden festival with mind-boggling productions back to back, there was a good balance between the cerebral and the emotional this time as each performance truly introduced new elements into the night. From laughing myself silly watching 'Emerald Hole' to sharing painful intimacy during 'Optic Trilogy', there were few dull moments.

Looking at its basic premise of "a Peranakan matriarch meeting a man whose coffin is too big for the regulation-sized hole", 'Emerald Hole' could easily have just been played for cheap laughs. Combining two local landmark plays, it had Jonathan Lim playing both Emily Gan from 'Emily of Emerald Hill' and the son, Lau, from 'The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole' in an explosive mix of the satirical and the political.

It must have been tempting to make 'Emerald Hole' simply a collection of digs at our Government creating an apathetic society unable and unwilling to care. Add in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink element of pastiche, it could have been an exercise in smugness - everytime you recognise an obscure reference, quick, give yourself a
pat on your back!

To Jonathan's and Krishen Jit's credit, the strange comical tale was more than that. It was hilarious, intelligent and provocative, mainly due to Jonathan's amazing one-man act. Flipping between Emily and Lau without so much as having to catch a breath (when he did, it was still in character), he had absolute confidence handling these rapid switches and the two personas. His wonderful sense of proxemics brought out the comedy as he made imagination not only visible but also funny.

Beyond the in-jokes about the grandma and her cat, the play worked on another level as the symbiotic synergy of the two plays in one bridged the time and space between then and now. Times and people might have changed but the need for the fight for our individual sovereignty remains. As Emily reminded us, the personal is political - there will always be a war.

>>'These new works had an alluring spontaneity as if they were your friends performing during summer camp.'

Watching 'Optic Trilogy' straight after that couldn't have been a more different experience. Using the motif of light density, three narratives playing on the possible permutations of one guy and one girl presented stories of human connection. Love for one's country, unrequited love, love given a second chance, love after death - they talked about love, all right. Written by Alfian Sa'at, the play was at its best when the lines flowed of their own volition. His background in poetry was evident as some lines shone with lyricism and beauty, throwing some light on the
abstract nature of love.

Ironically, that was also its Achilles Heel as the director tried to make his words work beyond the page, without them sounding like a poetry recital. While the direction worked for most parts, there were moments when things didn't go right as some of the blocking lacked imagination. The sheer weight of Alfian's poetry made the discrepancy even more glaring as his words poured forth in all directions eager to fill the air while the actors were rooted in theatrical inertia.

The charmer of the evening came right at the end as Selena Tan and company serenaded the audience with non-stop Cole Porter tunes. With her easy, laidback sense of humour and their melodious voices, they had the audience tapping their feet and swaying their heads to the beat of the music in no time.

With the sheer variety offered, it would not be hard to find something you would really like. To the festival's credit, as some segments ended I found myself wishing that they were a whole lot longer. Sometimes raw, sometimes edgy, these works had powerful life forces of their own, waiting to be released. Factor in the small audience size and cosy settings throughout 42 Waterloo Street, and these new works had an alluring spontaneity as if they were your friends performing during summer camp.

Hear these voices while they are still rough around the edges.