>[names changed to protect the innocent]: sex valve durmientes by the necessary stage

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 12 jul 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: marine parade black box
>rating: unrated

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

ook, 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.


Take three random words. Combine them in any way you like but make sure they sound catchy. Print them on yellow postcards with an equally random picture and leave them in the lobby at TNS. Phone several mad people and ask them to "express themselves" for a couple of nights in the vicinity of Marine Parade. Congratulations! You have successfully organised the latest instalment of [names changed to protect the innocent].

No Sex. Just Sausages.

NO PLOT. JUST SEX. was both an accurate and a misleading title for The small Theatre's "sexth" production. There was indeed no plot; but then again there was, strictly speaking, no sex - only outrageous innuendo as a young brother and sister discussed, apparently innocently, the food that their mother was cooking for them (literally: she had a hob and you could smell the sizzling oil) and making them eat. Among the more obvious metaphors were bananas, eggs, milk (and how it is obtained), and sausages. Less clear were the scenes about porridge and pancakes, but I daresay those with particularly twisted minds were able to glean some sort of double meaning.

And who needs a plot when you're so very funny? The children's conversations were often repetitive and circular, but writer Kevin Poh showed some awareness of how to use such traits to his comedic advantage. The actors also got great mileage from their lines, particularly the evil older sister, Elaine Ang, who psychotically stretched out some words to ludicrous lengths and bitchily bit off others. But when you're watching an out and out comedy, there is always the very kia su temptation to measure it in laughs per minute and work out whether you got your money's worth, and unfortunately NPJS was a couple of giggles down on the hourly average. The laughs were there to be had and they were big ones, but there was a bit too much filler in between.

There is always danger in attending a [names changed] performance, and in previous shows I have been flashed, ordered around, manipulated, frozen into a tableau, turned into a toilet, and even, in one extreme case, infested. Tonight was no exception. This time I had the pleasure of having a red bag forced over my head while being offered alphabet cereal by a similarly hooded guy with a noose round his neck. I suppose I didn't particularly mind (although they might have been a bit more careful not to drive my specs into the bridge of my nose) but I did wonder why they bothered to do it at all. Granted: the play was absurd, but for the most part it was a moderate and largely verbal form of absurdity. Full-blown silliness of the hood, noose and cereal variety was confined largely to the intermezzos where it seemed out of place, adding nothing to the main action of the play that it interrupted and, in any case, taking rather too long.

More successful surreal touches included the mother's speaking in two voices not quite simultaneously (one was live, the other recorded) and the placement of scrolling LED displays around the stage which flashed out pornographic messages while the kids ate their breakfast.

NO PLOT. JUST SEX. was apparently written and put on rather quickly (as is the [names changed] way) and this showed in the occasional flubbed line and spilt milk, but it mainly showed in a script that came across as a first draft. It's a good first draft, however, and I hope the company will return to give it a fuller treatment after working out what to discard, what to tighten up and what to leave exactly as it is.

>>'There seems to be a worrying trend among some of those who claim to be experimental to become part of the "I wanted to know what your reaction would be if I just sat here and didn't do anything" brigade. Can't they guess?'

Sounds and Furry

In such semi-improvised affairs as Susie Lingham's HOW TO CONSTRUCT A VALVE ON INTENSITY?, intention and result are often not the best of friends. The stated aim was to create "a 'listening space' [where] 'visuals' will be kept to a minimum." Quite apart from the 'superfluous' inverted 'commas', this was not how the piece turned out, though that wasn't entirely to its detriment. Rizman Putra Ahmad Ali proved to possess a bizarre magnetism as he danced - I use the word loosely - to the vibes Lingham and Aaron Kao were knocking out on the piano and drums respectively. It was impossible not to engage with him as he gurned*, pranced and juddered in the mother of all afro wigs, and he certainly seemed to like and command the limelight - so much so that for those of us who are synaesthetically challenged, his performance detracted from the sounds. Indeed, the only time I felt I could fully appreciate the "soundscape" Lingham had intended was when he left the auditorium and went, bug mike still receiving, to the toilet.

More of a problem was that the respective aural ingredients hadn't been balanced correctly. And whereas it didn't matter so much that the piano got buried under the drums (indeed, in the feedback session, at least one person said he liked the effect) it mattered quite considerably that the vocals were often inaudible. Apart from a pseudo refrain about karma, for which all three voices were singing, Lingham's words got pretty much lost in the melee, with only the occasional poetic-sounding syllable breaking through - and for a piece supposedly "constructed around 'text'" that can't be a good thing.

Nonetheless, the performance managed to retain a sense of focus and, while one might argue that repetition was used more than was strictly necessary, it refused to be boring and plainly knew where it was tyring to go.

Which, at some points, was more than I did. An arresting facet of Lingham's work is how it perches disconcertingly on the fence between earnestness and bathos, so that you can't be wholly sure whether it's supposed to funny and you're afraid to laugh in case it's not. This is an interesting line to tread and one which all three performers explored proficiently. And with a little tweaking of the amps and a bit more jamming practice, they should get even better.

Los Aburrimientos

Humour me while I quote what Gabriel Flain, the creator of the third piece, LOS DURMIENTES, wrote in the programme:

"If God for an instance would forget that we are cloth marionettes and would give us a piece of life, possibly we would not say all that we think, but we would definitely think all that we say. We would give value to all things, and not for what they are worth, but for what they mean. If God would give us a piece of life, we would dress simply, throw ourselves face-down, leaving bare not only our bodies but our souls…"

So now you know.

Of course, this wasn't what the subsequent piece of video art showed at all. There was nary a god-fearing puppet in sight, and instead we got a foreigner's view of Singapore created with all the workaday tricks of the video artist: scenes from moving vehicles, scenes of moving vehicles, fixated close-ups, etc., all accompanied by a jingle-jangle ambient soundtrack. Along with all these trieds and testeds, there were, however, one or two more interesting moments. The opening vignette showed a baby playing with a $2 note, rolling it over and over in his chubby little hands. In itself, such casual obsessiveness was fascinating, but far more striking was the look of discovered guilt (or at least that's my interpretation) in the baby's eyes as it caught sight of the camera and stopped what it was doing.

And I guess this scene accounts, however tenuously, for the "We would give value to all things" bit from the quote above, just as the lingering shots of sleeping commuters account for the bit about "cloth marionettes". And yet I resist. The programme text is so high-flown and the video footage itself so mundane that they seem largely irreconcilable, and only the most arbitrary leaps of the imagination (as above) can hope to connect them even superficially. I suppose it's a kind of puzzle: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" asked the Mad Hatter. Well, largely it isn't, but as a ploy to make this rather dull video more thought provoking, I suppose the text had its uses.

And then to finish, the camera was trained on us, the audience. The first time someone did this in distant antiquity it may have caused quite a stir, but it's a whole other millennium now and such antics just don't cut the camembert any more. And even if it were original, what would it achieve? There seems to be a worrying trend among some of those who claim to be experimental to become part of the "I wanted to know what your reaction would be if I just sat here and didn't do anything" brigade. Can't they guess? We'll all sit here too, feeling very mildly uncomfortable, and if they persist for long enough, we will leave. Thus it was with the camera on us, although it was turned off and the lights went up before anyone actually went home. Now, I can understand the point of an artist forcing his audience to face unpleasant truths, of confronting them with the sordid realities of human existence; but why anyone would want to provoke such an insipid and predictable emotion as mild discomfort is quite beyond me. I can get it at home watching 'Under One Roof'.

*This is a Northern English dialect word that describes the activities of people (generally senior citizens) who attempt to swallow their foreheads with their lower lips. I jest not.