>various gangsters by spell#7

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 6 sep 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, 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.


I was expecting gangsters but I got philosophers. Directed by Paul Rae, spell#7's twelfth performance was chockfull of text, ranging from intriguing to down right lewd. You might think VARIOUS GANGSTERS was about sex and violence. There were some references but the central theme was really about creating an alternative existence to the "passion spent, money spent" lives we live.

That was the premise, that was how it started, and then there was none.

The opening act had the four performers - Enlai Chua, Norlina Mohammed, Ben Slater and Kaylene Tan - play with mattresses, using them as backdrop as if each of them was the main figure on a playing card. Emphatic in delivery, each performer took turns to wax lyrical about our current state of life - "swimming with the sharks", "moving but not travelling", "necessary but ugly".

>>' I wish I had seen more gangsters. The philosophers were getting too engrossed in storytelling and mattress-dancing.

The direction the performance took after that, however, drove us further away from the idea of an alternative existence or about being a "gangster". Throughout the rest of the performance, there were references to how we needed to take the leap of faith to get to the next stage. We, the audience, never knew what this 'next stage' was, or what exactly the alternative existence was all about.

There were stories about Marco Polo the Italian explorer, the myth about the Old Man who trained young boys to become assassins in return for Paradise, some wistful thoughts about emotions, nightscapes and also, unfortunately, a gratuitous explicit monologue about a sexual encounter which probably invited the R(A) rating.

To the performers' credit, the performance of the text was intense, especially during parts when hand gestures complimented the story. Fingers would curl, point and draw shapes and palms would sway while a story was being told. On the other extreme, gesturing became hilarious when Norlina started lip-synching, complete with facial exaggerations, to a piece of music, while the rest moved their hands to the beat.

Other movements were plain weird.

Bewildering was having one performer lying face down on the mattress and having mattresses piled up on him/her. The Princess and the Pea may have been the inspiration but the fairy tale has a lot more going for it. Even more bewildering was asking questions (through the mike to simulate a voice over) and putting the mike to the person on the mattress to elicit a response but not getting any. The questions themselves seemed vaguely like part of an interrogation, perhaps questioning and challenging the status quo, but the content and intention (if any) lost out to the empty quasi-ritualistic presentation.

I wish I had seen more gangsters. The philosophers were getting too engrossed in storytelling and mattress-dancing.