>42@Waterloo by ACTION Theatre

>reviewed by james koh and kenneth kwok

>date: 5 nov 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: 42 waterloo street
>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.


It was a brilliant concept. To celebrate the move to an exciting new venue with an exciting premise for a piece of theatre. Or rather, 42 pieces of theatre. Thus was born 42@WATERLOO. At 42 Waterloo Street. For $42.

But after the first season of 42@WATERLOO, I'm left wondering if it's been $42, literally flushed down the erm, loo. In productions of this nature, it is inevitable that there are good performances, and bad performances within the mix and unfortunately, in the case of 42@WATERLOO, there was much more of the latter variety. With each new item, you kept hoping that this would be better than the last but inevitably, you would find your hopes crushed. While some of it can be excused on the grounds of Action Theatre just getting some of their friends in the local theatre circle round for a laugh and a bit of a party with no one taking any of it too seriously, one cannot help but be disappointed in light of the high ticket price, the promise of high-profile names and scripts with so much untapped potential.


The main piece of this first season, the much talked-about VIVA VIAGRA (***1/2), aside, there was little else to truly recommend the evening, except perhaps for DANCING DRAGONS (***1/2). Showcasing the wushu prowess of Picasso Tan and the sleek ballet movements of Shi Zhing Yi, this aimed to fuse and clash Asian martial arts with Western dance forms. It highlighted not only the fact that these two ostensibly different movements of the body actually shared some common ground, but that from this two forms of motion, an exciting hybrid, one with many unique possibilities could be created. DANCING DRAGONS grounded the dance piece with a rough plot - two teachers, one trained in wushu, the other in ballet, and their attempts to impart their skills to students with slightly different inclinations - but the focus was always on the exhilarating performance emphasizing the beauty and physicality of the body in motion.

>>'With each new item, you kept hoping that this would be better than the last but inevitably, you would find your hopes crushed.'


The evening was supported by three middling pieces of theatre - MR BBC (**), a stand-up comedy routine; an acapella musical, NO STRINGS ATTACHED (**1/2); and Kwuan Loh's GAY, MARRIED OR DEAD (**1/2), a (for want of a better word) romantic comedy about three women who cannot find the right man - all of which were entertaining, yes, but lacking any real bite. Which was a pity considering the calibre of the actors, including Deborah Png and Beatrice Chia, involved in GAY, MARRIED OR DEAD, and its topical and meaty issue of love, sex and gender wars in the 90's. The script was funny and engaging enough as the play first unraveled, but the jokes soon wore thin and the actors had to visibly struggle under the weight of cliche and stereotype and a truly preposterous ending in which a character admits that he has been pretending to be gay - all his life! - to win the heart of his best girl friend.

Having said that, neither GAY,MARRIED OR DEAD or MR BBC purported to be anything other than a tongue-in-cheek look at contemporary life, and on that count, both succeeded to some extent; while NO STRINGS ATTACHED, if taken as a piece of light musical entertainment rather than a play as such (which would have required a more substantial and developed plot and singers who had stronger acting backgrounds), was indeed a successful package of songs well-written and well-sung.


The same cannot be said for RED, BLUE, GREEN (*) which tried so hard to be satirical and clever but failed utterly to engage the audience in any way. It was based on an interesting and fun premise - what happens to a marriage when the husband hates T.V. and the wife simply cannot (and we mean, cannot!) live without it - but its attempts to be pseudo-philosophical in questioning the conditioning power of T.V. and the media were what let it down. All the script succeeded in doing was to create two highly unsympathetic characters that, as the play progressed, you got increasingly uninterested in. Anna Belle Francis, though, was hilarious as the wife, with her high-strung shrieks and her bitchy retorts and she made the most out of a ridiculously over-written part. Keagan Kang, on the other hand, was another story with his stony acting, which consisted of (to use the words of Straits Times reviewer Chen Wei Kiat in his review of "On Mercury's Wings") facial expressions that ranged from constipation to consternation. When the play came to its unsatisfactory and implausible ending, you felt cheated of what could have been so much more.

The last two items of the night were even weaker : the unfunny comedy routine FAT-BUSTED (1/2*) which opened the evening, and NIGHT OF THE UNKNOWN (*), a showcase that promised to feature new and inexperienced talents in their interpretation of excerpts from various plays and musicals. In the case of the latter, because most of the acting was competent - and only just so - and each of the actors were only given a couple of minutes for their act, their faces and performances became a blur and each left little impact; thus, only the really good and the really bad stood out - Juwanda singing 'Bring Him Home' from the hit musical 'Les Miserable' touched the hearts of the audience with his beautiful baritone voice; on the other hand, Anson Lim who was a solid presence in Next Theatre Lab's "Positive", gave a wooden and overly-mannered performance that made the audience squirm in their seats.