>WAYANG TEMPEST by 3.14 Productions and Dramaplus Arts

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 28 mar 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: university cultural centre
>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.


In the army, we have a phrase: wayang. It means, in this context anyway, to put on a big display so as to try and impress your Sir even though you aren't actually doing anything. The same thing can be said about this production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' - it was all shadows and light, a great big spectacle but one, sadly, lacking in any real depth and failing to bring any new insights to the play, which immediately begged the question that all such reinterpretations have to confront: why do it at all?

Perhaps the relocation of the scene to an Asian locale complete with the hypnotic, other-worldly sounds of the Gamelan and elaborate batik outfits presented the group with an opportunity to dazzle with flash and colour and capture the magical quality of Prospero's island. This they did admirably, but Shakespeare's text itself is so rich with meaning and humanity and these are precisely what director Roger Jenkins allowed to be buried under the masks and fancy costumes his cast wore.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Shakespeare can only be done as "high art" with Shakespearean actors speaking in posh English accents and frilly costumes. Indeed, Dramaplus Arts' attempt to bring the play closer to a more mainstream local audience by creating "an accessible and entertaining experience" via "Indonesian cultural elements to enable you to see the familiar in a new way" is laudable but without getting to the heart of the play, you are left only with a cartoon version of the play, a Disney version of 'The Tempest', if you will.

>>'Painted in large brush-strokes and going for cheap laughs, the play was stripped of a lot of its weight and pathos.'

How else to explain an Ariel more concerned with prancing and preening than in making you understand, through her words and her actions, her proverbial caged bird's deep sorrow? How else to explain a Ferdinand - a wet enough character in Shakespeare's version - who now is not only a soppy juve-lead but on and off and much, much worse, a clown being played for laughs? And we're talking about the kind of laughter you get when a character carrying a tree trunk swings round and nearly hits someone else with it such that she has to duck. And this happens again. And again. Curley, Moe and Ferdinand, the Three Stooges? Tee Hee.

Painted in large brush-strokes and going for cheap laughs, the play was stripped of a lot of its weight and pathos. You found it difficult to feel sorry for a broken Prospero when he was running around in a costume that made him look like a giant raisin or for Caliban, one of Shakespeare's most beautiful ugly characters, when he crawls around in a costume that has him practically gleaming in cleanliness save for dragging around a semi-stuffed sack that was apparently supposed to be his tail.

And if Jenkins was going for a comic-book version of Shakespeare Made Easy, then fair enough: "Prospero Meets the Mugging Masks" may not be what I want to see, but I can understand that some people might. No, what tilted the play off-balance, was the seriousness with which some of the other actors took to their roles admist all this Disneyfication. Despite being saddled with a ridiculously inappropriate costume, Melvinder Kanth captured the sadness of Caliban's soul perfectly just from the way he spoke his lines while the charismatic Harris Zaidi as Sebastian and Christian Lee as Antonio lent gravity to their roles, even though we couldn't see their faces. Lim Kay Siu turned in another solid performance (albeit one with too much sound and fury) but as with these others, he seemed totally out of place. He was playing Prospero the way one might play Macbeth or King Lear in Stratford while others were auditioning for "Mr Bean" or in the case of Gonzalo, Miranda and Ferdinand, "Days of Our Lives". Each approach was (arguably) valid depending on your target audience - but all together? Admist all this chaos, Brian Zimmerman and Philip Marcello as Stephano and Trinculo stood out for being seriously funny, in all senses of the phrase.

Jenkins may have dealt cleverly with the disturbing quality of Antonio's silence in the face of forgiveness for all his crimes (althought the punchline wasn't worth its protracted setup) but he created bigger holes by never exploring fully the relationships between Miranda and both her father and Caliban nor between Prospero and Ariel. If indeed, this production was designed as a spectacle to entertain (kudos to the dancers and the actresses who played Ariel, Patricia Toh and Teo Kiat Sing), then it did a fair job, but if it was trying to engage with the text and really reinterprete it on a thematic or even viable level, then it still had a very long way to go.