>reviewed by musa fazal

>date: 14 sep 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: the esplanade theatre studio
>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.


THE WATER STATION is the first of a trilogy of critically acclaimed plays by Ota Shogo exploring Man's interaction with the elements. Having had the privilege to watch the Earth Station and Wind Station, I must say that I find The WATER STATION the most hypnotic of the three. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps water commands our attention because of its nourishing, life-giving properties. Antoine de Saint Exupery, author of the Little Prince, once wrote that water "has no taste, no colour, no odour; it cannot be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself. It fills us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses."

In THE WATER STATION, a single tap of running water becomes a focal point for traveller after traveller to stop, rest and replenish. No words are spoken but the characters communicate their personal histories to us through their costumes, their gait, their interaction with each other and with the water. Physical movements slow down almost to a whisper. This is theatre reduced to its bare essence, so that every sidelong glance is magnified and every prop tells a story. An old shoe is worthy of a pause, a baby's bottle draws tears that tell of sacrifice. Baskets of junk and family laundry bandied about like banners, are set aside as the travellers stop to drink, wash, bathe and even brush their teeth. Silently the characters share with us their most routine and intimate cleansing rituals. The programme quotes Ota Shogo as having said of his play, "There are words here. You just can't hear them."

>>'an unmistakeable triumph for TTRP, and a deep, intense and fulfilling night of theatre'

Each actor has only several minutes on stage to convey a lifetime, and the intensity and concentration of the performance makes his task an unenviable one. This is a performance that relies very heavily on the actor to give it texture and the graduating students from the Theatre Training and Research Programme (TTRP) do an exceptional job. There were 17 actors in total, and the roles were unnamed, but some faces stood out. Jeungsook Yoo turned in a piercing performance communicating all the sharp pain of a disillusioned young girl, her eyes slowly welling up with tears, a faceless doll hanging limply by her side. Melissa Leung did a fascinating job playing a woman seeking shelter with a tiny parasol from gusts of wind that made her teeter perilously close to the edge.

The crew have designed a lovely set that cascades across from top stage right to bottom stage left effectively expanding the stage space within which the characters interact. Hella Chan adds volumes to the characters through weather-beaten costumes that speak like wrinkles of the tribulations of life. Director Philip Zarilli does a wonderful job in creating a diverse tapestry of mood, through music and the careful stitching together of the entrances and exits of each character. My one grouse is that occasionally I found the music somewhat overpowering, intruding at times on the silences and spaces for contemplation and reflection.

But this is a minor complaint for what was on the whole an unmistakeable triumph for TTRP, and a deep, intense and fulfilling night of theatre.