>HUNGRY by TheatreWorks

>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 31 mar 2001
>time: 5:30pm
>venue: theatreworks studio 1
>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.

>>>>>regrettable repast

Playwrights do not write plays in twenty-four hours for good reasons. And it is both unfortunate and unnecessary that Ng Yi-Sheng's HUNGRY, which won in the youth section of TheatreWorks' 24-Hour Playwriting Competition three years ago, should be a negative examplar of this; unfortunate because judging from his other work (such as 'Redhill Blues'), Ng is obviously capable of better things when unfettered with the sort of artificial constraints imposed by "innovative" playwrighting competitions; unnecessary because HUNGRY is one of those plays written in all the gaucherie of youth, and therefore much better left hushed up than put on display to live on in the minds of audience and critics alike.

A word then on the play itself. A sixteen year old girl has hung herself in the school toilet after getting very respectable O-level results. Her reason: there was rope in her locker and she couldn't bear the thought that this was all there was to life. This, though, we only find out in the course of the forty-five minute play. At the start, it is the three other characters who first confront us: an energetic young man dressed in snazzy seventies-wear jumping around and scrawling lines on the wall with a piece of chalk, a chunky looking youth in swaddling-clothes (and nothing else) curled up in a hammock, and finally a still figure standing in a small elevated enclosure to the side, togged in leopard print pants, his upper body streaked with tribal paint. The action starts when Sarah, our sixteen-year old suicide, stumbles on to the twilight world of the school toilet inhabited by them (a failed artist, an aborted baby, and God respectively), where the rest of the play is occupied with monologues on individual life histories, exchanges between characters, and juvenile disquisitions on issues of life and death.

>>'HUNGRY is one of those plays written in all the gaucherie of youth, and therefore much better left hushed up than put on display'

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of its genesis and the age of the writer, the main problems with HUNGRY were the triteness of thought, the laziness of structure and characterisation (God, for example, is a wholly superfluous and, worse, mystifying character), and arguably, the secondary-school topicality of its frame of reference. Having said that, this production of HUNGRY was by no means abysmal; in large part, this was due to the great energy and enthusiasm of its actors, which did a great deal to lift the play beyond the cringe-worthy. Mitchell Leow as the failed artist, in particular, brought a winning exuberance and suitably frenetic quality to the action, and Esther Yap was admirable in her role as the confused sixteen-year old convent girl (this from her uniform) still seeking the meaning of life when dead. The easy chemistry between them made their exchanges the best parts of the play and their delivery managed to take away the awkwardness inherent in those parts of the script.

Less successful, however, was the direction by Caleb Goh (as a director, himself barely out of swaddling-clothes) which tended towards cheap spectacle over more sensitive or nuanced play. In one particular scene Sarah, disillusioned with her past and present life, scoops faeces (fake) out from one of the three toilet bowls on stage and crams it into her mouth, then advances towards the other characters with the stuff still in her hand. At the end of the play, too, the audience were invited to take a trip through hell - en route to the door (which was in an adjoining room) exiting members of the audience were made to pass the actors in various strange poses that recalled freak show exhibits.

That HUNGRY took place under the auspices of the Young@Heart segment of TheatreWorks' 30 Plays in 30 Days is little excuse for staging something conceived, planned and written by an eighteen year old within twenty-four hours. It is one thing to showcase the work of next-generation playwrights; it is something else entirely to be indiscriminate in the choice of what to showcase. There are times when juvenilia is really best left tucked away in a discreet corner of the bureau; this Mr. Ng will realise when he goes on to the greater things he is undoubtedly destined for.