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Kenneth Kwok






The Esplanade Theatre Studio



Love Bites

Lovepuke was billed as a "fast-paced, quirky, contemporary love play about eight people who fall in and out of love, sex and relationships" and while this production lacked the confidence and polish of Toy Factory's 1999 run of the same play (also directed by Jeffrey Tan and sharing cast members Chua Enlai and Janice Koh, albeit in different roles), TheatreWorks' version certainly lived up to its hype.

A lot of credit goes to New Zealander Duncan Sarkies' script which crackled with wit and insight. Biting one-liners and acerbic put-downs came fast and furious but it was not all barbs and sarcasm - there were moments of great innocence, charm and sweetness in both the comedy and the characters (e.g. Her: "I like water skiing!"; Him: "That's great! I like water!") which gave the script much texture. Sarkies also managed to get into the heads of the various archetypes that populate the dating pool at your local singles bar (geographical boundaries seeming irrelevant): the helpless romantic, the himbo, the ball-busting tease, the closet case and, of course, the boy and ah lian next door. And because their stories were told in criss-crossing vignettes within a tight 60 minutes, all the set pieces and punchlines were golden throughout and you never spent so much time with any one character that you got bored.

The vignettes about the lives of the three couples occasionally cut away to musical numbers and to two narrator-type figures and these also helped to lift the play, although an extended run of musical numbers and poetic verses as a coda did threaten to try one's patience. Even a couple of the cast members looked embarrassed to be singing along to Love Is In the Air at the end!

Director Jeffrey Tan handled the pacing of the play well, keeping things fast and furious, and he proved to be adept with the many different strands of comedy running through the play. Much of the laughter, for example, came from the use of swear words, simulated sex acts and scatological references and while these were cheap shots, there is no denying that they work tremendously well - as they did here - if the tone of the play is light enough and the cast themselves are in on the game. A particularly memorable moment was when one of the narrator figures, a cynic expounding on the joys of singlehood, played by Rajesh Krishnamuti admitted to masturbating and then went up to individual members of the audience and accused them with macho bluster, "I bet you masturbate too!" He was clearly enjoying himself as he did it and that energy was infectious. Tan also handled the gentler strands of comedy well, no easy task because of the greater truths inherent in some of these comic elements. The use of note cards as props was one good example. The surprising ways in which they were used created much comedy but also said a lot about dating and relationships: A man wiped his crocodile tears with a note card that had the word "hanky" on it (dating as a performance); lovers held up note-cards with "First" or "Second" to indicate who orgasmed sooner (love as a competition) - to say nothing of Janice Koh's character, who ended up holding up "Third" and "Fourth" note-cards as well!

The success of a play like this, however, ultimately rests on its cast. Imagine Sex and the City or Friends with a clunky cast. Suddenly they don't seem as funny or sexy anymore. In this case, even the weakest links were by no means bad and as an ensemble, represented one of the finest gatherings of (the younger) acting talents in Singapore that I have seen.

Chermaine Ang, Brendon Fernandez and Ravi Raaj Marimootoo had the least showy roles but were well-cast and easily won the audience over with their natural ease and chemistry onstage. But it was Chua Enlai and Janice Koh who commanded the stage with comic timing you could set your Panerai to and a real feel for their over-the-top characters. Both are quite clearly among the finest the Singapore stage has to offer, handling both the heart and humour of their characters with great skill and flair.

Caught in all the high-octane energy, however, Annie Lee overplayed her hand and her sweet romantic became a little too exaggerated and trying at times. Rajesh Krishnamuti, likewise, seemed to be playing more to a tweenie audience than a yuppie one, with larger-than-life facial expressions that made him too much of a caricature and impossible to be taken seriously as a cynic. The more subtle and drier comic stylings of Hossan Leong in the same role in the 1993 production proved more successful in making me invest in this outsider character.

And then we had Denise Tan, the second narrator-figure, a performance artist who for the most part was in a corner of the stage playing by herself (arguably, "with" herself as well since she seemed to be enjoying her constipation a little too much) and punctuating the proceedings with verses comparing love to a bodily function more related to what goes on in the loo than the bedroom. Her character seemed largely superfluous although her nursery rhymes about poo and goo goo - for isn’t love an equally messy if necessary part of life? - were indeed amusing and delivered with much aplomb. Her moment in the sun, however, came with a show-stopper of a solo musical number that made it all worthwhile. What a voice! - see you on Singapore Idol Season 2!

I felt that the eventual wedding between the two narrator figures which tied up the play was a little forced but I appreciate that Sarkies acknowledged this in the script with a nudge and a wink and also left the stories of the other characters relatively open-ended.

In the real world of love, sex and relationships, after all, unlike plays about love, there are, sadly, no "obligatory happy endings".

"As an ensemble, the cast represented one of the finest gatherings of (the younger) acting talents in Singapore that I have seen"


Writer: Duncan Sarkies

Director: Jeffrey Tan

Cast: Chua Enlai, Brendon Fernandez, Rajesh Krishnamuti, Ravi Raj Marimootoo, Janice Koh, Chermaine Ang, Denise Tan, Annie Lee

More Reviews of Productions by TheatreWorks

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.