>WHEN WILL I SEE SKY? by Singapore Broadway Playhouse

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 18 aug 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre
>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 Guinness Theatre was covered with white plastic sheets, overlaid with dark brown sand, and featured faux plastic clouds, suspended eggs, piles of books on two white wooden blocks and four comatose bodies. In front of the bodies were red plastic bags, stuffed with something. At the sides were naked stand alone lamps. There were also ... Tired of the picture list? I could go on, since I had all the time in the world to take in every detail as a mind-numbing string of Indonesian names were miked in.

Despite the slow start, the cast literally leapt into their modern day roles, dancing to edgy music and writhing into corporate wear straight out of those red plastic bags. Cutting from proud declarations of Singaporean policies done good, the ensemble also portrayed Pramoedya Ananta Toer (the anti-Dutch Indonesian who was later incarcerated for suspected links to Sino-variety Communism) together with other Indonesian political casualties of the 1960s. The ensemble became either torturer or tortured, playing a variety of roles. Loose association prevailed between the scenes, and coupled with indeterminate characterisation, served to blur the divide between the various political narratives.

>>'What was budgeted to last 1 hour 40 minutes needlessly dragged to nearly 2 hours.'

Throughout the play, Jacintha Voon led with her convicted acting. While I cannot fault the rest for their energy or sincerity, I ached for less pretentiousness. Whether it was reciting a list of names ad nauseam, clawing much too slowly on the sandy floor, or taking too long to roll four cigarettes, the point could have been made just as effectively in a shorter delivery without having to drown the audience in excruciating ponderousness. Effort should have been channelled instead to clear voice projection and cleaner scene changes. What was budgeted to last 1 hour 40 minutes needlessly dragged to nearly 2 hours.

In WHEN WILL I SEE SKY? the body is seen as a microcosm of the nation, and the ills accumulated by one's ancestors resurface as pain in the self even as strong-arm national policies add up to riots, arson and general anarchy. However, this translated on-stage to a clumsy co-presentation of physical pain - toothache, chest palpitations, spinal bifida and what have you - as inherited alongside national upheaval, the direct result of corrupt political institutions. This analogy is simply too overdone or too overstated to have much evocative power. Likewise, there were many semiotic devices that were cloying in their transparency: literal baggage carrying, crushing of eggs to mean the stifling of human potential among others. The at times too contrived lines such as "you cannot have a cure without a life ... you cannot have a life without a cure" merely parallel this non-subtlety.

It was clear that Singapore Broadway Playhouse attempted to enshrine Pramoedya and turn the critical eye upon Singapore and other political systems on Wednesday night, all of which are commendable endeavours. However, there was more than a suggestion that they failed to rise above those plastic clouds.