>1 bed 3 pillows by action theatre (double bill 1)

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 31 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>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.


It was a night when two plays of different effects became strange bedfellows to each other. Uneven in strength, it was evident that the latter play was the more developed of the two. Although both plays dealt with the dynamics of personal relationships, PILLOW TALK missed a certain depth and subtlety that SPLIT SECOND had. Even more ironic was the point that each play found in the other what was deficient in themselves. Where PILLOW TALK was safely delivered to completion by veteran actresses Tan Kheng Hua and Lydia Look whose roles are nowhere a stretch for thespians of their calibre, Selena Tan's writing and direction lacked the finesse and range that was more apparent in Split Second. But where it all mattered, SPLIT SECOND did not have the actors with the necessary virtuosity to bring the script alive.

The premise of PILLOW TALK is simple enough as Selena Tan plies the well-trodden rivalry and discomfiture between siblings, their jealousies and selfishness amidst intimacy, love and care. Two sisters, Susan and Sandra are reunited after a long separation because the elder sister is almost dying and bed-ridden. Whilst sorting out the memorabilia in the drawers, the two move between past and present, revealing all their hopes, fears and erstwhile kinks in their history, culminating in the eventual death of the sister on the bed.

>>'Even more ironic was the point that each play found in the other what was deficient in themselves.'

However, Selena Tan's script remained flat on the surface, and did not proceed to plumb more deeply but stayed as assorted paraphernalia. The play threatened to be overwhelmed by familiar television scenes and gags with its requisite humour in the whisperings of girly secrets and shenanigans, giving the feeling that it was merely rehashed and given some plot twists. But the play did have some sparky and suggestive moments. There were touches that bordered on the risqué like when the Susan experimented with condoms on Sandra, and insinuations of guilt and blame that surrounded the illness and death of the mother. We are also left to speculate whether Susan's death was natural or deliberately caused. Yet it was irksome that they became mere passing shots that were not better worked into the play. As a director, Tan has yet to mature and explore beyond the dimensions of a straight, realist dramatization of the school play genre.

SPLIT SECOND, in contrast, gave more substance to chew on. Densely layered with a mixture of Greek mythology (Orpheus and Euridice), news reportage of an Iranian stranded at the Charles de Gaulle airport for nine years and personal recollections that are repeated but with a difference throughout the play, Wang Meiyin's script zips through and dissects the stranded relationship of a married couple through these trajectories and intellectual minefields of mind games and wordplays. The play is moody and pensive broken only by sudden releases of tension. It is about lost desires, lukewarm touches, suppressed voices and paranoia played through two people who have ceased to recognize each other held, divergent between Lou Reed and Bach but are hostages to memories. But some of Wang's best lines are reserved for more philosophical contemplations as she muses that if eternity is a keyboard, then time is that which strikes a note on the keyboard.

But SPLIT SECOND is not an easy play to ingest as one suspects that Wang may have been a tad too indulgent with her words and her craft, at times more intent at displaying her clever turns. Her insertion of an ultra-naturalistic scene of the return of the old flame, Abby, to upset the marital equilibrium seemed like a flawed attempt to vary the tempo. The scene dipped into banal dialogues and predictable quibbles/ commentaries on Singapore, losing its idiosyncratic quirkiness. The play too could have benefited more from a sharper and more innovative and dynamic direction from Jonathan Lim, who might have better compensated for the stillness of the play. But the gravest injustice done to the play is borne squarely on the shoulders of the actors. Whilst Melissa Kwek held her role as the wife with equanimity and quiet intelligence, Ng Tzer Huei is not at all convincing as a Sartre-obsessed husband who wishes to be on the tip of Tibet. For a wordy play like SPLIT SECOND, it cannot afford an actor who continually flubs his lines, constructs malapropisms and mangles his diction. Tan Shin Yi, as Abby appears to be still rather self-conscious and uncomfortable on stage, giving a stilted and contrived delivery of a supposed sexy and strong-headed libertarian.

As strange couples go, PILLOW TALK and SPLIT SECOND provided nice counterpoints to each other for a thematic evening of a double bill with one bed and three pillows. As individual plays on their own, without that thematic jaunt, they still could and would want to do more with their dramatic material and theatrical space.