>fireface by toy factory theatre ensemble

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 15 sep 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: toy factory theatrette
>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.


Marius von Mayenburg belongs to the new wave of young German playwrights known as the 'Blood and Sperm' movement. There is certainly plenty of both substances in what the press release worryingly describes as a piece of "on-your-face" theatre - his 1998 play FIREFACE, a darkly comic look at modern family life, containing enough bleeding and ejaculation to fill a small bathtub. In von Mayenburg's view, the nuclear family comes surrounded by a haze of nuclear fallout.

At first glance the family in question seems typical enough - engineer father in blue overalls housewife mother in a fifties Stepford wife-type frock. The children are slightly odder; daughter Ada is obsessed with losing her virginity despite being flat-chested, while son Kurt sets things on fire - dead birds, clothes, local buildings - but his parents put this down, optimistically, to his grappling with the problems of puberty.

Von Mayenburg is unsettlingly good at portraying how family relationships can stifle and cloy. Father would rather read about dead prostitutes than sleep with his wife. Kurt and Ada do more than sleep in their shared bed, while their mother habitually strips off and showers in front of Kurt. "Being my mother isn't enough for you," he complains. "You want to be a woman as well."

>>' FIREFACE is the sort of theatre Singapore needs more of - high octane yet highly intelligent.'

Things get more complicated when Ada acquires a motorcycle-riding boyfriend, Paul (Kevin Murphy). Distracted by jealousy, Kurt accidentally burns his own face in a classroom arson incident. Now wearing a rather sinister white mask, he begins acting more and more like a cartoon villain, increasing his dark influence over Ada.

All five cast members are talented physical performers, with Karen Tan
standing out as the skittish mother. She is like Lucille Ball on speed, a
model housewife who can't understand why her family doesn't fit into the
normal pattern. Murphy and Christian Huber provide fine support as grunting macho men, while Ian Tan shines as Kurt, the ultimate problem child. The weak link here is Pat Toh as Ada - she has a compelling stage presence, but her diction leaves a lot to be desired, and she never quite grasps the ambivalence of her character, both drawn to Kurt and damaged by him.

Beatrice Chia's direction is both effective and stylish. Her scenes segue
into each other so smoothly the transitions are barely noticeable, and she integrates sound and lighting seamlessly with the action (helped by Mark Richmond's excellent sound design). There are many witty touches scattered through the production - when the mother talks about menstruation, a red taffeta slip peeps out from beneath her black dress; the walls are lined with portraits of people with their faces missing.

If there is a fault here, it is Chia's fondness for shock tactics. The frequent clothes-shedding and bump 'n' grind moments on stage are all of a piece with those oh-so-controversial banned advertising images. This is in
keeping with the spirit of the play, yes, but the nth time the giant plastic dildo makes its appearance, or that Ada slips her hand down her brother's shorts, the novelty does start to pall.

Fortunately the production gains focus as it nears its gruesome denouement. Without going into too much detail about this, suffice it to say the most chilling scene you will witness in the theatre this year takes place in total blackout, punctuated only by screams of terror. FIREFACE is the sort of theatre Singapore needs more of - high octane yet highly intelligent.