>POSITIVE by Next Lab Theatre Ensemble

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 14 aug 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>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.

>>>>>positive criticism

It is always difficult as a theatre reviewer to critically appraise a production that is inherently valid and worthy simply because of its theme. In the particular case of Next Lab Theatre Ensemble's POSITIVE, this becomes even more complex as the production is, to some extent, not even a play at all but a documentary given only the vaguest sketchings of a theatrical performance. Suitably targetted by Next Lab towards a secondary school-going audience, POSITIVE presents the facts about AIDS with plot - a group of friends deal with the (possible) consequences of casual sex - and characterization simple and basic enough not to distract and to only entertain its primarily AIDS-unaware audience on the most surface level.

Next Lab should be applauded for bringing, as it does, the AIDS awareness message to the mainstream. Video screens were set up to broadcast safe sex messages at one point, and actors go into lengthy medical explanations of what it means to be HIV-positive and in-depth narratives of HIV-testing procedures, often while breaking the fourth wall and directing these directly at the audience instead of the characters on stage that they are supposed to be talking to. Arguably, their role is even more valid than that of the Necessary Stage's recent "Completely With/Out Character" production, because of Next Lab's community and grassroots connections; POSITIVE brings the message to the people who may not have heard it all before.

>>'POSITIVE was inherently weak, often painfully cliched, and never truly engaging beyond the surface level of the characters'

Although the production itself was school-playish and revealed the inherent inexperience of this new theatre company, the young director and many of the actors, especially the leads, showed sincerity and some promise; more importantly, this would have brought the play more effectively to their intended audience, reaching out to them, as it would have, at their level by being real and accessible. The sniggers and wolf-whistles throughout the performance I attended at every single reference to sex or love-making - especially the winningly constructed love scene in silhouette - was indicative of the expectations and mindset of the audience. Would that they also absorbed some of the information on safe sex being presented for them on stage while they sniggered and proceeded to chat loudly to friends, either those in seats next to them or worse, via handphone.

What was completely unacceptable, however, were the glaring inaccuracies that revealed the inadequate research done on the part of the adapting playwright. Lawrence Carr's original script may have been appropriate in its time and in its original American setting, but transplanted, as it was to contemporary Singapore, many of the facts (for example, with regard to local testing procedures) presented simply no longer held true. Having said that, as a script for the theatre, Carr's POSITIVE was inherently weak, often painfully cliched, and never truly engaging beyond the surface level of the characters. The excuse of it being primarily an educational tool is still no excuse for the appalling twist at the end of the production which reveals that the entire proceedings of the play was ... only a dream.