>beautiful losers by spell#7

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 10 dec 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: 65 kerbau road
>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.

>>>>>WIN SOME, LOSE...

You can tell this is not going to be a normal play. It starts at the brand-new Little India MRT station, which is still wrapped in plastic and not yet in use. After you have been standing around for a while - longer, in fact, than you think they would be able to get away with - three people emerge from underground. One of them operates the electric gate, and the other two, not saying a word, herd all twenty or so of you round the corner into an alley. Still silent, but smiling broadly, they lay a welcome mat at the bottom of a stairway, and encourage you to follow them.

At the top of the stairs, you recognise the spell#7 theatre space, only it's been done up to look like a flat. There is a sofa set, a bed, and a dining table with a half-eaten meal on it. The two people, whom you recognise as Kaylene Tan, co-founder of spell#7, and Gerald Chew, whom you last saw on 'Moulmein High' as a teacher or something, smile in unison. "Welcome losers!" they chorus. This is the first line of the play. The lights are still on, and you notice that most of the audience are involved in the local theatre scene in some way. Emma Yong, who recently married Gerald, is standing next to you.

The two actors are saying something about relics, and how they can be found in daily life. Kaylene opens a cupboard door and finds a tin of Khong Guan biscuits, which she encourages everyone to venerate. This involves holding your hand out towards it, as strange electronic noises reverberate through the air. Kaylene stands on a small stool to venerate it better; you notice that this makes her the same height as Beatrice Chia, who is standing a few feet away.

>>'...the universe created in this production is utterly complete and believable.'

There are a couple of monologues called things like "All The Telephone Conversations In The World", and a couple of dances involving a large knife that Kaylene pulls out from inside a lamp. Gerald makes people sit on the sofa next to him, and talks to them as if at the end of a dinner party. Kaylene recreates a slumber party by dragging a few women onto the bed with her. Gerald confesses that he has been impotent for quite a while. "I have exposed myself to pornography," he murmurs. "Even of the local kind."

And all I have done is describe this production, because there is really no point analysing it. Towards the end, Gerald tells the audience to "sit down and think about what this might possibly mean." The immediate reaction is laughter, because experiences like this don't have to "mean" anything. Or rather, nothing you can put into words - you let them wash over you, like music, and they change you in ways you can't describe.

Simon Jones's text contains more of an atmosphere than a narrative, with some gorgeous writing. Particularly beguiling is a section in which Kaylene, blindfolded, launches into a vividly sensual monologue. "I will not surrender my tongue," she says, walking amongst the audience and brushing her hands over people she cannot see. "Have the whole holy carcass else. Not the clacker, not the teaser, not the lovely lovely soother in the panic-fucked night." The effect is extraordinary.

Director Paul Rae has obviously taken on board Jones's idea of separate worlds co-existing in the same space. Like street-corner preachers, Kaylene and Gerald's characters inhabit a different reality from the rest of us, a world which makes sense on its own terms but which no one else quite believes in. The audience is brought in, and an hour and a quarter later sent away, now wondering whether there is more to our world than we'd previously thought. There might not be a "plot" as such, but the universe created in this production is utterly complete and believable.

In fact the play ends with Kaylene and Gerald wandering down the stairs, still talking to each other, and it is not until you hear the door bang at the foot of the stairs that you realise it is all over. When you get home there is still a CD-ROM to look at, which was given out instead of a programme, containing images of Kaylene and Gerald in other people's houses (looking for relics, one assumes), and a sheaf of information that illuminates the world of the play and its creators. There is something faintly unreal about the whole experience; you feel a bit unsettled, having visited the world of the BEAUTIFUL LOSERS for a short time, and wonder what it must be like for those who have to live there.