>ZERO by Frantic Assembly

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 9 mar 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: zouk
>rating: not rated

>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 might appear that the 21st century is no brave new world for denizens of this planet. There can be no utopian vision and what exists for us is still the now, the present and its problems. Whilst there can be anticipatory birth pangs for the new millennium, we have no certainty for the future (unless we be clairvoyants) and so we enter with trepidation and wavering confidence, still grappling with the tensions of today's existence. With so many prophecies about the year 2000, it is no wonder that we fear the rug might be pulled from under our feet, leaving us with an abyss at "ground zero".

Zero begins - true to its company's name - with a burst of energy, the frenetic pace and breakneck speeds of potent techno-trip hop music and choreography. So from the very start, Zero's intention is to tap into the pulse of hip, urban youth culture and their particular world view - (as such Zouk is a worthy venue). As inheritors of tomorrow's world, today's youth is the millennium's representative group and its frustrations and needs deserve prime consideration. Clever use of dancefloor space enabled them to continuously shift their locations as if to mirror (post)modernity's shaky grounds and its resistance to fixed-ness. The constant movement of the plastic toy-house served as a good metaphor and symbol for placements and displacements of youth identity and soul, also in its tenuous, protracted negotiations of conflicts between the old and the new, the family/society and the individual/self. Ever present also is the threat of being assimilated and commercially homogenised. The actors, dressed in school-marmish uniforms, identical wigs and sunglasses, moved about like repetitive automatons, alienated and depersonalized.

>>'Ultimately, Zero's aesthetics overshadow its substance, and when the bright lights and hypnotic music die out, it fails to linger within one's imagination.'

Yet lying beneath that is the subversive self, waiting to be uncovered. And so, at the moment of reckoning, these false appearances are ripped off. The actors and actresses stand abreast in their black bras and bare torsos, and in their own hair. Zero's aesthetics and form are very much with the present trend of stylized, self-reflexive dramas. It also tries to disrupt the boundaries that held the actors and the audience, and so it keeps its plot loose and impromptu, responding instead to the reactions of the field, which helped to relax rigid expectations of the audience, as there were some glaring technical glitches. However, their spontaneity lacked originality and their delivery of their lines was disappointingly uninspired, without any panache. Instead, it marred the pace of the play, making it look unpolished and amateurish.

Whilst the play does well in executing its form, one feels that the play does not really move beyond that, especially in its content. How does a play substantiate and present youthful convictions and how does it attempt to say anything new or different? The play is interested in the present consternation of today's youth anxieties and how it feeds into their regard for the future, yet the future seems beleaguered with the same age-old baggage. It touches on many contemporary issues such as gun-violence fetishes indulgence in drink, sexuality and sexual pleasure, motherhood and media desensitization from watching too much TV, yet it fails to contemplate on any. The issues are embedded within fleeting, fractured narratives and monologues, held in tandem to each other but never closes in on interaction and synthesis. At times it arrives at reflective questions: what would one do if all the power is cut off (a strange but ironic question since much of the play's set-up is predicated on electricity-dependent technology) especially since we are the MTV generation? However, this is seldom fruitfully sustained. Unless the play had meant itself to be extremely self-conscious and reflexive of its presentation, whereby its touch and go affair mirrors the nebulousness of urban youths, the play's subjects and subject matter deserve deeper, more complex treatment and consideration.

If Zero had been a pre-millennial meditation that came out a few more years back, it would have been considered fresh, innovative and even cutting-edge. Now, we are so deluged with such information and presentations that it is easy to get jaded. Ultimately, Zero's aesthetics overshadow its substance, and when the bright lights and hypnotic music die out, it fails to linger within one's imagination.