>the seventh drawer by toy factory theatre ensemble

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 19 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the former warehouse disco
>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.


The former Warehouse Disco throbbed once again with life as Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble's THE SEVENTH DRAWER unfolded for the public within its abandoned premises. Instead of responding kinetically on the dance floor to the person or team behind a console, the lone prowler, the odd couple or the motley pack of friends are now firmly benched for what was a complexly sensuous experience.

Taking a poetically written excursion by Hong Kong playwright Ho Ying Fung, the production attempts to let the audience in on Fanny's psychic forays into her (ancestral) past attended by its many witnesses. Whether mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or grandfather, these pound, gambol, scream, dance and float, giving form to the random access memory of Fanny. Of the cast, Tan Kheng Hua's powerful physicality was particularly magnetic.

Alternating between nostalgic and modish tenors, these testifying voices far from clarifying Fanny's enquiry compete over issues of nationalism, gender, familial and sexual politics with a particular focus on the (dis)enabling function of historical recount. In one scene, Fanny's attempts to write out ideograms on the floor were thwarted by another's quick act of erasure, perhaps suggesting that even an effort to write her private history cannot be left unmolested.

>>'THE SEVENTH DRAWER would have really taken off had directorial caprice been reined in to service textual exigencies and audience comprehension.'

Into this interweave of issues already rife with nascent complexities, the cast had to contend with several demands that worked against the communicative power of the play. Firstly, the script posed a difficulty in how it sometimes defies grammatical strictures and most times overflows in its dense imagery. For example, the phrases "lies in your cookbook of ghosts" and "let me reshape your font size" had to be delivered with childlike glee by Neo Swee Lin acting as Fanny.

Secondly, the challenging direction by Goh Boon Teck sent actors monkeying up huge metallic frames or else shooting up the air via cables. Yet, it is precisely at points when the actors were either hoisted up, facing away or else doing a variation of disco-aerobics, that the airy, exhausted and thus inaudible delivery by certain actors failed to bear up the poetry of the text. It was the rare few including Gani Abdul Karim and Mark Richmond who met the demands well.

Thirdly, the set design and use-of-props that have come to typify the Ensemble's more avant-garde productions were in this instance not entirely successful. A strong motif was embodied by the calligraphic embellishment on lanterns, clothing and boxes, and this brushwork succeeded in putting to picture what words failed to express. However, the use of light up drawers, harness-pulley systems and pop-open boxes dispensing dust or confetti begged the question of how these contribute to or cohere with the spoken text. A more considered use of industrial light and magic would have worked better.

With such a capable team of practitioners assembled, one cannot escape the thought that THE SEVENTH DRAWER would have really taken off had directorial caprice been reined in to service textual exigencies and audience comprehension. While I agree with Tan that "the audience should not always have it easy", one has to
also recognise that the audience is capable of spotting effects that are self-preoccupied and as such detract from a productive engagement. A bit of spring-cleaning would not have been out of place here.