>lanterns by the necessary stage

>reviewed by musa fazal

>date: 13 mar 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue:the university cultural centre
>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.


Inspired by Haresh Sharma's acclaimed 'Lanterns Never Go Out', this latest offering by The Necessary Stage for the M1 Youth Connection festival is a must-watch hit.

Directed by Natalie Hennedige, and devised with the help of a stellar cast, LANTERNS scores because it manages to capture adolescent rage in all its turbulent glory. The central story of an 18-year old girl, Kah Wei, and her relationships with her family and friends, is interspersed with short MTV-style skits of kids clowning around with wild abandon, revealing to each other their fears, hopes and dreams, filtered through the warped eyes of youth.

Serena Ho plays Kah Wei, a girl with a helluva attitude problem - she hits her mother, bullies her gay brother, and threatens to blow up everything, from Changi Airport to Parliament House. In a dramatic opening scene, Kah Wei struts onto stage with a mask and a gun, picks up a cheeseburger, chews, then spits it out, and stares at the audience throughout with a discomforting defiance in her eye. This sets the stage for a character determined to reject everything around her: family, responsibility, love.

Patricia Mok plays Kah Wei's widowed mother and manages impressively to portray her scenes with a heartwrenching sensitivity, without losing her sharp comic edge in the process. T T Dhavamanni plays a taxi driver with the strange fortune of picking up a suicidal Kah Wei and her distraught mother. He has some of the best lines in the play, including one where he talks of fighting discrimination against Indians by lighting himself with kerosene and running across Chinatown singing Happy Deepavali.

>>'A play with a clear target audience in mind, and, judging from the response of the uniform-clad students around me, this hip, irreverent play hit the mark'

Weakest perhaps was Paerin Choa's portrayal of a gay brother, done in such a stereotypical manner, that in the follow-up feedback session I attended, members of the audience were provoked into questioning the production team on the merits of the "gay-bashing" scenes (hardly likely, one thinks, for gay-bashing to have been intended by TNS).

What is clear is that in watching the repeated acts of violence onstage, the repeated swearing, the repeated use of that rebellious phrase "So?", any youth hell-bent on being unreasonable in the face of an unreasonable world, might actually sense the absurdity of her behaviour.

Best of all, Hennedige manages to get this message across without being didactic. Partly because the play ends with Kah Wei in circumstances no different than those she was in at the very beginning. She threatens to move out of the family HDB, and even goes as far as looking through the classifieds, but never actually leaves. In a rare attempt to reach out to someone, she kisses her best friend, only to be rejected. The play ends with Kah Wei, in a mock trial, accused by all around her, unable to respond with anything stronger than a cough. There are no preachy morals, no neat resolutions to the dysfunctional relationships. Yet the story does end with a light hint of optimism. Seated beside her brother in something of a truce, Kah Wei's mother comes over and pats her gently saying: "You all two go and sleep, hor. Tomorrow everything will be ok." Nice.

There were bits the play could have done without. Christina Aguilera as an opening song was lame. And the mini-lanterns, which only made a brief cameo appearance in the opening scene, (clearly leftovers from someone's Chinese New Year decorations) were also unnecessary.

But then, perhaps, Aguilera is a songstress and icon for a younger generation than mine. This was a play with a clear target audience in mind, and, judging from the response of the uniform-clad students around me, this hip, irreverent play hit the mark. A triumph for Hennedige.

If you missed the performance, fret not. Copies of the script are available from TNS and, for good measure, you might just want to get yourself a copy of Sharma's original classic as well. Recommended reading for all schools.