>THE OTHER by Five Arts Centre

>reviewed by eugene tan

>date: 16 feb 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>rating: see below

>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.


In the light of two plays in "Threesome" by The Necessary Stage being submitted for the Life! Theatre Awards separately, I shall attempt to review THE OTHER, also a triple bill, as three separate plays.

>'The Smell of Language' (****)

So the show of three monologues opens with this, as it rightly should. This was a monologue in the purest sense of the word, a man standing on stage talking. Except that there was also a butler, but he was basically a human prop. The man, an "eminent 78-year-old writer/essayist/novelist" could very well have been delivering a speech, except that he was in character. Or at least I think he was, I have no idea what the actor is like in person, so I shall assume that what was presented was a character.

On stage he talks about his own death and the circumstances surrounding the investigation of his death. Which sounds like pretty boring material so far, I mean, dead man standing still talking endlessly, it doesn't sound like it adds up to much. But it did.

THE SMELL OF LANGUAGE was not made by its story, but rather by a very very strong performance from Huzir Sulaiman who wrote and acted in the piece. It was a delivery that was at once assured, pompous, and yet strangely engaging. From the first word, I was thoroughly drawn into this world that he was creating on stage of an "eminent 78-year-old writer/essayist/novelist" who now happens to be dead. In death he tries to have the nature of his death made known and so the already dead "eminent 78-year-old writer/essayist/novelist" (if you're wondering why I'm repeating this, it's because he did, many time over, and to hilarious effect at that) whispers to his nephew to investigate his death. And the nephew discovers some spooky bits, which really is not very important because this play was about the actor and the actor was wonderful. Even when you didn't see him as he spoke in a blackout.

THE SMELL OF LANGUAGE could very well have been a radio play, but it was presented on stage and by the actor's sheer presence, we did not feel that we were watching a radio play set on a physical stage. Excellent Stuff.

>>'Although it did not work for me, it apparently worked for others, because some came out after the show talking about this piece quite favourably'

>Who's Looney, Man?' (**)

I'm sure this monologue about a woman who grew up of mixed parentage in Malaysia and is now dealing with the possibility of insanity is an excellent piece of writing. But I really would not know because I was just too distracted by the actress who was very irritating. Which is a shame really, because to her credit, she did seem to work really hard and act her heart out, but somewhere between the character and the actress, something just grated on my nerves. The thing is she did some really interesting things on stage, roller-blading and painting her ancestry on the floor with tubes of read and yellow paint for example. She even became my hero at one point when people who showed up late and sat in the front row got splashed by her enthusiastic paint squirting, but unfortunately, it all just did not work for me.

The key point to note here is that although it did not work for me, it apparently worked for others, because some came out after the show talking about this piece quite favourably. So maybe it wasn't bad and it was just a personal gut reaction to an actress who probably doesn't deserve my irritation.

>'Atomic Jaya' (****1/2)

The last piece of this triple bill was a frightful 90 minutes long, and I hereby register my protest at having missed "Survivor" that night.

But that's entirely okay with me because in return, I was richly rewarded with ATOMIC JAYA: Claire Wong in a tour de force about a Malaysian atomic bomb as told through the voices of 16 different characters, and no, none of the 16 get voted off.

She is Dr. Mary Yuen a US educated physicist who is invited by a military general to help develop Malaysia's own atomic bomb. So she takes up the top-secret offer, meets other scientists working on the project and also other people who are interested or disinterested in the project for various reasons.

Deliciously politically incorrect, the script, also by Huzir Sulaiman, takes pot shots at everything from race ("we have a Chinese to do the work, a Malay to take the credit and an Indian to take the blame"), to politicians to journalists to people on the streets. All played out on stage by Claire Wong, slipping from one role to the next almost seamlessly, and often with spot-on idiosyncrasies in the case of characters based on public figures, such that there was no need to guess very hard who we were laughing at, even though some references were very Malaysian.

While the play belonged to Wong in almost all respects, mention must also go to the people who created that wonderful community song tribute to the Malaysian Atomic Bomb. Why can't we have songs like that in Singapore?

The tale ends with failure, sabotage and mass finger pointing, so land-up-north, so island-down-south, so human.