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Exploding Rice


Riverbed Theatre and The Necessary Stage


Kenneth Kwok






The Esplanade Theatre Studio



Scream a Little Scream of Me

Exploding Rice is not an easy production to put into words. In fact, the production itself used few words at all, relying instead on music, movement and imagery to present a slowly unravelling dreamscape of alternate realities and strange possibilities. Characters silently appear and disappear from behind hanging swathes of grey cloth and do not seem directly related to one another and yet the pieces work together to create a powerful representation of the nature of dreams - full of motifs, metaphors and symbols but where meaning is always just that one step ahead so you can never quite reach it. In fact, it was only when I relaxed and released the urge to try to interpret the meaning behind each symbol that I truly appreciated the beauty of the production.

I sensed that there probably was meaning in the madness but why did we always have to try to find it and pin it down? In fact, I believe the intention of this abstract piece of theatre was precisely to challenge me to resist doing that. Looking for meaning in dreams is after all like trying to holding water in your hands. Moreover, I felt it almost rude to try and impose my consciousness on someone else's personal theatrical journey into his or her own memory and subconscious. This was due to the feeling of intimacy that arose from the starkness and simplicity of the imagery. The images were presented on what was pretty much a bare stage and the characters always worked individually or at most in twos or threes, with their movements very controlled and precise and only ever leading to a single purpose. The actors also never had anything other than the expression of a corpse on their faces which made them seem not so much distant as vulnerable and naked.

The sense that I made of the production, then, was (quite literally) that of the five senses, or, at least, two of them. For 50 minutes, Riverbed Theatre massaged my eyes and ears with images and sounds so carefully paced that they would have lulled me to sleep if not for the fact that they were so enthralling. I simply sat back and absorbed the series of bizarre and surreal images presented before me: a semi-nude woman with an engorged prosthetic upper torso roamed the stage; a man stood still as a statue and had red paint sprayed on his right hand and left ear; another man with a cartoon head sat at a writing table and wrote - and all the while, hypnotic music played in circles around me.

What was particularly effective was the way images would unfold so very slowly like the second hand of a clock and then turn, without any melodrama or fanfare, into something unexpected and sometimes truly shocking. One example is a woman in slow motion impaling herself on a knife and another is a woman who enters with a box and opens it to reveal a woman's severed head - which then starts to sing. Dreamlike, these images would in turn segue smoothly into something ordinary and mundane. This constant settling and unsettling of emotional motion was oddly disturbing and calming at the same time and captured perfectly the complexity and randomness of dreams - and, perhaps, of life, where peace and horror can be only a second apart and are both part of a single tapestry... Damn. Have I just tried to construe meaning from the play again?

I came out of the Esplanade Studio Theatre that evening as if waking from a half-remembered dream, my head full of jumbled images. And somehow the real world I lived in, with its own jumbled images, seemed strangely to be that much sharper in focus.

"The constant settling and unsettling of emotional motion was oddly disturbing and calming at the same time and captured perfectly the complexity and randomness of dreams - and, perhaps, of life"

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.