>MADE IN KK by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 13 mar 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the toy factory living room theatrette
>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.


The soft buzz of the rotating fans, the distant sounds of an er-hu playing - this was the setting of the Toy Factory Living Room Theatrette, which is at the top floor of a shophouse in the heart of Chinatown. It is a new and naturalistic way of putting on plays, where the audience sits on the floor, engaged by the proximity of the actors, the absence of a real stage, and the familiarity of the natural environment. Stripped away of the paraphernalia of modern theatre, this setting is fresh and unique, and highly appropriate for the staging of 6 short plays by 6 new playwrights, 3 in English and 3 in Mandarin.

Yet, sadly the standard of most of the plays was lacking. Not only were most of them pretentious and amateurish, but they did not make ample use of the breakdown between the audience and actors that such a theatrette allowed. An exception was 'Hanged', which had an innovative use of shadow puppetry and a clever handling of stage props by the actors. But this still could not distract from the weak script, which limped aimlessly along. The play attempted to dramatise the mundane events in life, in this case the inner workings of an office. But the play leaned too much towards the mundane and thus lacked spirit and dramatic impetus. Another play with a weak script was 'Like a Virgin' which was a superficial exploration of the attitudes which contemporary women have on virginity and marriage. But despite the interesting fusion between the real and the surreal, whereupon the women reveal their innermost fears and secrets, the play was bogged down by the amateurish acting and the poor elocution of the actresses.

>>'This new 'living room experience' is unique in allowing more naturalistic plays to be performed in an environment which breaks down the formal links between actors and the audience.'

Both the plays 'Still Lives' and 'Waiting' dealt with the topic of 'tui fei', or 'wasting away', by capturing the aimlessness of the lives led by young people. But the former suffered from a bland script and lacklustre acting; in addition its attempts to create a series of 'still' images of these young people in various poses of 'wasting away', not only reeked of pretentiousness, but highlighted the limitations of the 'Living Room Theatrette', with its lack of adequate lighting facilities.

Similar in theme, but much better executed was 'Waiting', not least because of the strong acting, especially by Adelina Ong, who gave a memorable performance as the frustrated girlfriend caught in a down-spiralling relationship. Moreover, the imaginative use of space and direction captured the lethargy and sense of ennui of this group of young people, who spend their time watching television and smoking. And by switching off the fans, closing the windows and allowing the smoke to build up within the theatrette, the audience was able to physically feel and experience the claustrophobia and frustration of these characters caught up within the meaninglessness of their lives.

The other saving grace of the evening was 'Love is Puttu Mayam', an imaginatively directed tale of suicide and the afterlife. It had strong script, which mixed the macabre with ironic humour and touches of melancholic humanity. Furthermore, dramatic tension was sustained by the strong and credible performances by Michelle Chong and Dex Tan, especially the luminous Michelle Chong, who showed a great range of dramatic skill - effortlessly switching from a cold, brittle 'messenger of god' who begins to open up, to a materialistic and selfish girlfriend, and back again.

This new 'living room experience' is unique in allowing more naturalistic plays to be performed in an environment which breaks down the formal links between actors and the audience. But sadly, not many of the plays tonight managed to rise to the challenges of tapping into that potential.