>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 20 aug 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>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.

>>>>>mommie dearest

Gay playwrights from Tennessee Williams to Christopher Durang have explored in various works their fraught yet ineluctable relationships with their mothers; FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN would appear to be French Canadian Michel Tremblay's tribute to his "Nana", a Saskatchewan woman who raises a large family in Quebec. W!ld Rice has, as is its wont, localised this play so that the mother is now a Peranakan from a kampong in Singapore, although the Montreal setting is retained.

Most of the play consists of stories told by the mother in between bouts of domestic activity. She is a born raconteur, her infectious humour and tall tales tapping into the lively atmosphere of the émigré household. Anything lying around the house - a shirt, a knife, a loaf of French bread - gets caught up and used as a prop in her energetic near-monologue (her son is allowed, for the most part, only brief interjections).

>>'The show cannot bear the weight of the overwrought production W!ld Rice has given this already overwrought play'

We see the narrator (Ivan Heng) morph from naughty ten-year-old to bolshy teenager to young man on the brink of life. His upward trajectory is counterpointed by his mother's slow decline from energetic young matron to frail older lady bewildered by the stranger her son has become. Neo Swee Lin has a magnetic presence as the mother, ageing so imperceptibly that it comes as a shock when she totters on for her final entrance just how worn down she has become in the course of the play.

The play touts its simplicity as a virtue - it opens with a list of classic scripts, from Sophocles to Shaw, that it claims it will not be like. This never quite works, though, because the writer doesn't really trust in the strength of his material. The stories are never left to beguile us in their homely simplicity, but trussed up in bells and whistles - particularly the mother's propensity for exaggeration, which gives rise to all kinds of 'Big Fish'-like over-the-top scenarios.


This draws focus from the heart of the story - the relationship between mother and son - when the time could perhaps have been spent more fruitfully sketching in the rest of the family. We never hear anything about the father, and hear for the first time in the last minutes of the play that the narrator has four siblings we were not aware of before.

The other problem with this production is that it is so achingly aware of its own importance. Whilst reciting the list of plays at the start of the evening, Ivan Heng slips in references to W!ld Rice's past triumphs, 'Emily of Emerald Hill' and 'Animal Farm', confident that the audience will join him in laughing knowingly. Every potentially tender moment between mother and son is soaked in so much pathos that raw emotion threatens to flood the stage, burst through the fourth wall and drown the audience in treacly sentiment.

There are many beguiling moments in this play, and possibly the most startling ending ever seen in Singapore theatre - so startling, in fact, that it appears to belong in another play altogether - but the show cannot bear the weight of the overwrought production W!ld Rice has given this already overwrought play. FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN is a textbook example of a production in which less would have been more.

>Read Kenneth's alternative review here.