>haunted house by the fun stage

>reviewed by guest writer stella kon

>date: 19 mar 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: not rated

>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.


It's been said that a good drama is one that moves you, even if you don't know the language it's done in. This could be said of a scene in HAUNTED HOUSE where Darren (played by Dwayne Tan) verbally slices his sister's boyfriend Zhi Chong into quivering pieces, stabbing deep into every weakness of past and present till Zhi Chong flees the house. Dwayne also played another striking scene of wordless mime - which has become director Benny Lim's trademark - manipulating five paper funerary dolls, with extraordinary grace and elegance.

However, the script could have been tightened a lot, especially in the first half. The media effects sometimes seemed to go on too long. The pacing and timing of the players was good and was in the style of Practice Theatre; and I have sometimes thought that there is a cultural aspect to how we feel about pacing in the theatre, that is, a Chinese -culture audience will sit quietly and appreciate the effect you are trying to make, some time after the Western-trained audience is getting restless and saying "Enough already, what comes next?" (Like in the movie 'Hero'.)

>>'Benny Lim seems to have invented a new Singaporean sub-genre - Mandarin drama by, and for, the Mandarin-Impaired!'

I was most impressed with actor Dwayne Tan, who could draw the eye when just sitting still, or conversely, depict terminal confrontation with an occult force, with his back to the audience. Unfortunately the other players, Xue Ping and Ben Yeo, tended to act like "talking heads," kayu from the neck down.

Benny Lim wrote the Mandarin script, confessing his weak ability in Chinese; Dwayne Tan has never studied Chinese as a language, and this reviewer has very little Chinese. These weaknesses turn to strengths in HAUNTED HOUSE, as language is used with spare simplicity, and what we see on stage takes priority over the words we hear. There are striking moments of stillness, and Pinteresque silences filled with unspoken meanings. The multimedia visuals add another dimension. Benny Lim seems to have invented a new Singaporean sub-genre - Mandarin drama by, and for, the Mandarin-Impaired!

The multi-media effects were well-integrated into the script and technically well-executed; whether they went on too long may, as I said, be a subjective opinion. One ploy which didn't quite work was to have Zhi Chong, as the boy whose love affair just broke up, sit absolutely still in a spotlight on edge of stage, while the "sound-track" plays a plaintive song. To make this work, you need to have an actor who can express the deep anguish in his heart with his whole body, while sitting still. Without this, you have not successfully made the translation from the screen with its visual close-ups to theatre whose power is in the physical presence of the actor. The negotiation of this transition would seem to be the goal, of The Fun Stage's extremely interesting experiments in multi-media theatre.