>2 feet above by the small theatre

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date:13 dec 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the substation
>rating: ***1/2

>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 Small Theatre's 2 FEET ABOVE for The Substation's Theatre Fest is the kind of work that encourages you to go on believing that local groups have talent and guts and have not got lost in the elusive quest for artistic excellence. Under the direction of Kevin Poh, 2 FEET ABOVE, an audience-based event, was carefully planned and executed, demanding the audience comply with their conditions or be denied admission, mostly consistent in characterisation and ultimately, a journey worth taking.

The main conditions of being able to participate in the event were that we had to change into a surgical gown and sign an indemnity form. There was a small commotion in the female washroom as we prepared to shed our clothes for the blue surgical gown. How did you tie the strings together and was my back sufficiently covered? For sure, we had to be in nothing more than our undies beneath the clinical garb.

A TV set screened a black and white movie that featured controlled expressions and endless dialogue while we scribbled on a form the items that we had to deposit at the counter. Valuables were put into red pouch fastened with a large yellow clip which we would carry throughout the event.

We were led to the basement of the Substation where we were interviewed by 'the lawyer' who prepared our will. At this point in time, it was still an atmosphere of slight distrust as we had little idea of what was going to happen next. But after the signing of the will, things fell into place as we were called one at a time into a room - a small operation room complete with blinding lamp and surgical tools. It was what happened in this room that made the deepest impression.


>>'I did as I was told, lay on the bed and was pronounced dead in a matter of seconds'

Asked to swallow a pill (which I was sceptical of but was assured of its harmlessness), I did as I was told, lay on the bed and was pronounced dead in a matter of seconds. A white cloth covered my whole body and I was only aware of people talking. 'My father' (his name announced as extracted from the will) was asked to identity my body and at that moment, the elaborate mock up became an emotional realisation of what it meant to be dead. By then, my resistance had worn down and I finally got into the character of being dead.

An identification tag was slipped onto my wrist and I was led out of the basement and to the Guinness Theatre but climbing up a ladder just outside the basement. I was asked to sit near my coffin (what seemed liked a wooden matchbox with a red pillow inside) and read through my will and extracts on Near Death Experiences (NDE). I refused to read much at first. I wanted to get on with the show. But having a group of 20 and leading them one by one through the operating theatre and to the graveyard proved to be plodding, making the already dead restless, and I had to fill my time with NDE information. I was neither interested in reading nor in the subject of NDE, and there was little else to be distracted by apart from wafts of incense and moody music. This period of waiting was the most unsatisfactory portion, especially when other members of the audience were making small talk with their neighbours.

The time came for us to lie in our coffins. We slid in from the end and had a transparent plastic sheet cover the opening where our heads were. We were supposed to be buried under sand but due to a technical hiccup, there was none in consideration of the audience's safety (I was informed later). The event nonetheless proceeded without visible signs of panic. The cast of 2 FEET ABOVE in single file walked through the coffins, flinging pebbles and Styrofoam pieces. The lights were then switched off - complete darkness. We were finally dead and buried.

There could have been more detail (visual displays?), especially in the unnervingly long waiting period. And it's a pity we weren't engulfed by sand. But the exercise in death was a successful one. I wouldn't say I had a life-changing experience but I was moved and did think about death more personally instead of in a removed and sentimental way.

Such site-transforming, audience-dependent and risk-taking productions are rare but when done and handled with care as it was here, it only makes you go back for more.