>peer pleasure by the necessary stage
>reviewed by marcus tan
8 mar 2002
Part of the M1 Youth Connection initiative, PEER PLEASURE is the only theatre festival organised and presented for the young, by the young. Despite the common belief that such productions are amateurish, this year's double-bill, featuring original productions from Commonwealth Secondary and Anderson Secondary schools, demonstrated the ways in which theatre in Singapore is possibly "coming of age". The maturity of issues presented and the proficient staging witnessed in both performances were truly encouraging and laudable.
Centred around teenage issues such as identity (dis)placement, acceptance, achievement and suicide, both productions effectively dramatised the anxieties of growing up in modern, materialistic, achievement-oriented Singapore.
Commonwealth Secondary School's 'I'm Still Here' is an angst-ridden, high-energy ride about a pregnant teenage protagonist who is, uncannily, a male. Employing the style of device drama, 'I'm Still Here' illustrated the ways in which avant-garde theatre can be effective in communicating ideas without bordering on the pretentious or self-indulgent, as other local experimental performances often do. Though there was no linear narrative, the story was powerfully conveyed by the emotions it generated and the tensions it created.
One of the tenets of device drama is the exposure of theatrical artifice. The devices of theatrical construction are not concealed and their functioning avoids illusion or identification with the characters on stage. Marcus, the protagonist, was the entire ensemble of actors on the stage. The 'universality' of his condition - his search for identity, a longing for acceptance from his friends and family despite his pregnant condition; his sense of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide - was thus evoked. The ability to inhabit multiple roles and constantly switch from one to another was a challenge successfully undertaken by these talented teens. Stylised movements accentuated the ludicrousness of daily routines - the combing of one's hair, the undivided attention one gives to an examination of waistline and muscle-growth - and these actions carefully pried out some common teenage anxieties.
>>'Centred around teenage issues such as identity (dis)placement, acceptance, achievement and suicide, both productions effectively dramatised the anxieties of growing up in modern, materialistic, achievement-oriented Singapore.'
The production further exemplified the ways in which modern theatre is a synthesis and a collage of different art forms. The performance, through the effective use of music (rage-filled tunes such as Linkin Park's "Crawling" contrasted with the ethereal sounds of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel"), lighting, costume, video images, dance and even the incorporation of a Greek-like chorus that sat among the audience and echoed the anxieties of the protagonist - all this successfully conveyed the story of a boy teetering on the edge between life and death. The mood radically shifted as resolution was achieved when Marcus finally regained his family's acceptance but only at the cost of losing his mother.
"I'm Still Here" is certainly a praiseworthy production that possessed much critical and dramatic depth despite some minor glitches (for example, the music was often abrupt in its entry and end and was oftentimes too loud).
Kheleev and Sara's wardrobes get exchanged literally, and along with them their skeletons, when a wish made by both causes them to switch bodies. This exchange was effectively communicated by the interplay of video images: Sara and Kheleev's portrait-images became swapped, and both awakened to find that their genders had changed.
Such a staging of gender confusion (and not merely gender cross-dressing, for there was hardly any in this production) is certain to incite laughter. This is perhaps the strength of Anderson Secondary School's production. "IM UR" explores the range of human emotions and uses a humorous impossibility to accentuate a serious issue about teenage identity. The gravity of issues such as anorexia, peer pressure, pressure from home, and the effects of failed marriages on children, are not compromised by the hilarious performances of Kheleev playing Sara and vice versa.
The cast members of this strong ensemble were extremely convincing in their portrayal of the various characters, and credit must be awarded to the two leads who undertook the extremely challenging task of playing cross-gendered roles. The strength of "IM UR" came from its ability to evoke a range of moods in the audience and its simple yet powerful and effectively communicated narrative.
away from both productions possessing a cornucopia of reactions and emotions.
The very 'real' problems highlighted in both plays and their poignant
endings certainly tugged at the heartstrings, while the professionalism
shown in both productions, and the awareness created in the audience through
the dramatisation of these problems lifted one's spirits with hope. Theatre,
then, not only holds, as Shakespeare says, "a mirror up to nature"
but can and will effect social change as well.