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As theatre / dance enthusiasts, The Inkpot writers watch more theatre / dance productions than what they go on to write full reviews for.

This page archives our writers' mini-reviews (or First Impressions) from May 2008 onwards for productions which did not subsequently receive full Inkpot reviews from any of our writers.

Archive: First Impressions

2008

an oak tree by News From Nowhere
10/05/2008
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
**1/2

In an oak tree, writer / director Tim Crouch performs the story with a different actor in each show and this actor (in my case, Karen Tan) is someone who has never seen or read the play before she walks up on stage. Her performance onstage is guided by Crouch talking directly to her, through headphones that she is wearing or from lines of a script that she has been given there and then. It is easy to understand the acclaim Crouch has received because this truly innovative approach powerfully challenges our ideas of life and theatre, of lived reality and performed fiction. At the same time, however, I did find oak problematic: this inspired approach to staging could not deepen my experience of the unfolding drama about coping with loss because I found the script to be so over-written that I had difficulty actually caring about the story or characters. The play thus could only exist for me as a curio, a theatre experiment or exercise. In fact, the script even had the unfortunate effect of making the theatrical device I found so intriguing and thought-provoking at first, eventually seem contrived and manipulative instead. Some audience members found the play stimulating, others soporific – my experience oscillated between the two so the plays gets two and a half stars. All in all, a worthy play that even though I did not actually enjoy as an audience member, I'm still very glad I saw because of its interest value to me as a theatre enthusiast.



Hamletmachine by Theatre Training and Research Programme
23/05/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2


Hamletmachine takes ages to warm up properly, has some utterly extraneous sections and ends way too abruptly, but on the whole this work by TTRP's 4th graduating cohort is decidedly impressive. Director Uichiro Fueda interprets Heiner Müller's classic work as a concerto of concentrated strangeness: a pitch-dark pit where uncanny movements and turbulent monologues of despair echo one another in multiple languages and styles of movement. Besides the riveting butoh sequences by guest performer Mitsuyo Uesugi, also watch out for the startlingly intense vocal work by Sreejith Remanan and Tam Ka Man Amy, as well as some provocatively powerful choreography by Sreejith, Sajeev Purushotama and Alberto Ruiz Lopez.



Hamletmachine
by Theatre Training and Research Programme
31/05/2008
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
**1/2


Hamletmachine, as staged by the cohort of graduating actor-students from the TTRP, pounced with much ferocity but I found little that really captured my imagination or even attention. The sparse text of the original script was expanded by way of forceful repetition and movement sequences of great kinetic energy but I did not feel that these cohered to create meaning or offer new perspectives. Even when considered as individual vignettes inspired by the text, I felt that the images created, while striking and well-executed, were less than compelling: there wasn’t the sense of any new ground being broken, something to be hoped for due to the nature of the work. The international cast proved to be charismatic and fiery performers but I was also disappointed that the production did not really give them the opportunity to showcase much range.



No Direction
by Nibroll
04/06/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
****1/2


No Direction hits the ground running with its vibrant energy and fantastic, relentlessly surprising imagery of movement. There's a consistent flow of energy that really defines the dancers as an ensemble, as performers rush and crash into each other, falling almost magically in and out of sync, never identifying with individual characters or relationships but instead following the manic rhythm of the larger group. Paired with the gently bizarre costume/installations of Mitsushi Yanaihara, the ripping music of SKANK and the psychedelic, awesomely interactive digital visuals of Keisuke Takahashi, this dance production comes across to this reviewer as a genuine revelation.



Nine Hills One Valley
by Ratan Thiyam and Chorus Repertory Theatre of Manipur
07/06/2008
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
**1/2


In the talkback session, director Ratan Thiyam said that, for him, theatre is the bringing together of different artistic elements to express one’s thoughts and feelings on a subject. In the case of Nine Hills, he indeed uses a large palette to paint a picture of a world in urgent crisis. The atmospheric Nine Hills is a lament for things lost in war and it is physicalized by actors who sing, dance, chant and use their bodies and props to create images steeped in metaphor. A few of these are effective (even if they lack originality): pairs of hands emerge from a mass of black cloth, twisting and turning; dancers have their hands chopped off by a sword-wielding Time to be replaced by flowing red cloth to symbolize blood spurting from their severed limbs; actors run furiously and desperately on the spot, going nowhere. Unfortunately, most are simply too pedestrian to affect – the play ends, for example, with the cast holding candles which they then place around a darkened stage to symbolize hope for a better age – and do not really work together to create a strong and clear message either. The play is also not helped by the repetition and dragged out movements which mar the pacing of the play, and the copious amounts of melodramatic shouting and wailing of lines that, at least in translation from Manipuri to English, are reductive pronouncements and truisms which add little to the content. Nine Hills is interesting as an insight to contemporary theatre in India and as a peek into some ethnic cultural arts but, on the whole, I was left unimpressed and unmoved as the play droned on.



True by Takayuki Fujimoto, Tsuyoshi Shirai, Takao Kawaguchi, Takuya Minami, Daito Manabe, Satoshi Horii, Seiichi Saito, Motoi Ishibashi, Masaki Teruoka, Noriko Kitamura
25/07/2008

First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

For its first half hour, True is gently intriguing, introducing us to a moment of in the life of a young man (Tsuyoshi Shirai) when the laws of the world suddenly bend and buckle: a cup sticks to the floor as if magnetised, photographs giggle and coffee becomes a hallucinogenic. There's an understated descent into an insane world, when the mind and the senses can no longer be trusted, and the very walls – a set of steel scaffolding – begin to sing with the deep music of their attached oscillators. I could dig the multimedia-enhanced neuroscience lecture delivered by the mysterious man in a suit (Takao Kawaguchi), and when the two of them began their contact improvisation dances, it was a sight to behold: these dancers can go from zero to backflip in seconds. But about halfway through the show, somewhere in the rotating-shadows sequence, I got bored – rather than any sense of intensification or progress in the insanity, I was experiencing simply period after period of chaos, with no truly new elements introduced to make me gasp and wonder - not much of a resolution at the ending, either. Summary: cool concept and tech, and some amazingly talented dancers, but this show needs some structural dramaturgy, quick.



OH! by Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)
03/08/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
**1/2

The plot is a mess, the spectacle is pointless, the grammar is shaky, the villains are one-dimensional and the crass depictions of gay men and white-collar foreign workers are just plain bigoted. Yet OH! is intriguing - not just because it continues Agni Kootthu's tradition of presenting angry, surrealistic political theatre from the ground up, but because it also ventures into the realm of absurdist ambiguity.

Here, we've got scenes of an insane Chinese Singaporean stage magician trying to stop his dead mother from doing the "tak boleh tahan" dance, or engaged in a schizophrenic hawker centre conversation with a well-brushed Indian man, with violence and racial tensions bubbling alongside a bizarre sense of tolerance and mutual good humour. Or there's that scene in a school office where a Malay principal confronts a Chinese girl who refuses to sing the National anthem because her mother was robbed by Malay gangsters and she can't bear anything in the language. Aarrrgh, it's not written with polish, but it's all urgently strange and unabashedly discontent with the way Singapore is today. Quality aside , it's impossible to watch this and come away feeling nothing.



Tree/House by spell#7 and Ho Tzu Nyen
07/08/2008

First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
****1/2


Showing the same tender loving care with which one grows things, spell#7's contribution to this double-bill is carefully and affectionately manicured to near-perfection. Tree Duet's circuitous loops, pregnant pauses and precise choreography never feels contrived, only purposeful; every movement comes together (what is the opposite of unraveling?) slowly but surely to result in magical moments of poignancy and transcendence once all the pieces are in place. Tree Duet is a stunningly beautiful work of visual poetry that teaches you to look at the world through patient eyes: just as trees need time to grow, so do works of art - but patience will be rewarded in that act of something real, meaningful and magical being created before you.

At the core of Tree Duet is a meditative journey narrated by a wistful Paul Rae about the simple pleasures of living - remembering, contemplating, even something as basic as drinking - and what we stand to lose if we don't stop ourselves from being caught up in consumerism and convenience and don't take the time to just breathe and reflect on our time in the world once in a while.

The second half of the double-bill, Ho Tzu Nyen's House of Memory, however, takes a more academic approach to this theme of remembering and forgetting and is essentially a lecture on the craft of memorization. What fascinates is how the text narrated live by the visual artist and film-maker is accompanied by an hour-long film which stitches together scenes from various old movies. Sometimes the images selected are literal, other times they are metaphorical but they are always well-chosen to accompany the different beats of the text, save in the last five minutes when, I felt, the artist was much too heavy-handed.



To Kill A Mockingbird by Sharon Ang
22/08/2008
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
**1/2

Although the play adopts a very literal and largely uninspired approach to Harper Lee’s classic text about prejudice in 1930s Alabama, I found it to be watchable nonetheless. Sure, the script had way too much narration / exposition – remember, students: theatre should be show not tell - and the whole production did have the trappings of a conventional assembly show (you can’t put on a staging of a perennial O level text and not, at least subconsciously, have in mind your core audience to be secondary school Literature students), but the power of Lee’s quietly moving narrative is just so strong that it powered through any of this stage adaptation’s inadequacies. To be fair, this no-frills production (no actual props are used throughout the play, for example) was not without its own charm and its decision to include an adult Scout reflecting on her childhood did bring some poignancy to the story. The otherwise extremely uneven cast also boasted some nice performances, notably Gerald Chew who, while no Gregory Peck, was well-cast as Atticus Finch.



The Write Stuff by The Little Company
25/08/2008
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
No rating given

When we talk about developing new talent in the local theatre scene, we rarely think about 12 year olds but that's exactly what the Singapore Repertory Theatre has done. The best part about The Write Stuff though is that it isn't just a playwriting competition for primary 5 and 6 students (which would already make this an incredibly worthwhile project) but that it is also a showcase for the winning works as well. How utterly thrilling and, more importantly, inspiring an experience it must be for the 12 finalists to see the words they have put down on paper magically brought to life like this, especially when the SRT's Little Company has clearly spared no expense in the staging of the scripts - I marvel at the resources, thought and love that have clearly gone into transforming the scripts to into such lavish and vibrant spectacles. High praise for all involved, from director Michael Corbidge to the incredible ensemble cast; from the multimedia team to the costume designers - and everyone in between (including, of course, the young playwrights themselves).

(Note: I have not commented in detail about the plays themselves as I am actually one of the judges of the still-ongoing competition.)



The Immortal of Peng Lai by The Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera Company
07/09/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
****

I'm not usually a fan of Chinese opera, but Ming Hwa Yuan seriously knows how to rock the house. Things started off kinda slow with a lacklustre opening sequence in the land of the immortals, featuring the immortal Li Xuan showing off his prowess in a surprisingly un-stunning martial arts sequence. The show picked up, however, as Lord Lao's colossal green bull began to rebel (and I lerrrrve the character of the Green Bull, in the forms of both a Snuffle-upagus-esque megamuppet and a solo actor). In fact, the comedic scenes were consistently fabulous - Chen Sheng Tsai's performance as a crippled beggar scored laughs galore, whether he was pestering addled Taoist priests or pleading for gold nuggets from immortals, and it was nice to have a few local references thrown in too - NKF jokes never fail to get a laugh. With added momentum, lead actress Sun Tsui-Feng didn't disappoint either in her role as Li Xuan, combining slapstick, repartee and pathos to complete the epic arc of the folktale. With their high production values, gorgeous sets, all-round competent cast and vibrantly contemporary sense of entertainment, Ming Hwa Yuan is definitely a company worth inviting back again and again.



Old Sounds by T.H.E (The Human Expression) Dance Company
12/09/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

My friends who know the history of Singapore dance are way excited by this show: with Old Sounds, choreographer Kuik Swee Boon has introduced a strain of exquisite high-quality kinetic dance that's never been produced before in Singapore. You can't help but be impressed by the complex, formal dynamism that bursts from the performers' bodies, well-matched by the spellbinding sound art of Darren Ng and some incredibly beautiful video projections by Gabriela Tropia Gomes.

Still, I've got beef with the performance. Conceptually, it's just hammering the same point over and over again - we're modern-day people, cut loose from the moorings of our heritage, blah-di-blah - and while this does come to life well as the nervous energy of the displaced, in the middle I started to get quite bored. Not so crazy about the ripping up of paper scrolls at the end, either - it was neither sufficiently elegant nor chaotic enough to generate a satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, I've gotta recognise the facts: this is a bloody significant work by a locally based choreographer and homegrown dancers. This could change the dance scene as we know it.



backtoback by NUS Stage
22/10/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
No rating given

NUS Stage, the first theatre group to represent the whole of the university, has chosen two difficult scripts for its maiden full-length performance. Terence McNally's Next works decently at first as a comedy piece in its portrayal of a protesting 38 year-old man being put through a medical exam by a female sergeant – some familiar material for us ex-army boys, though it does run a little long. What really spoils the piece, however, is the retention of the final monologue, in which the discharged examinee senselessly rails against the system. Not really the actor's fault – it'd take an extraordinarily gifted player to make this wailing sound emotionally resonant rather than noisily pathetic. It's very much a product of the Vietnam War era in which it was written.

Dario Fo's The Virtuous Burglar, on the other hand, starts off slow and then gets funnier and funnier as more actors crowd onto the luscious set. It's a very good choice for a performance: absurd, salacious and more or less culturally universal – though some effects were spoiled by actors speaking much too fast and garbling their words.

Both plays also share some basic directorial flaws: scripts aren't mined enough to reveal hidden tensions and character tics and actors aren't given enough confidence in or awareness of their bodies, hampering the physical comedy. As it is the show comes off as a rather good student production, but only that. A drama group representing the whole of NUS should aspire to professional standards.



Sky Duet by Spell #7 and Evan Tan
31/10/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
****

Sky Duet is uncanny. Taking the form of a 30-minute mp3 audioguide, it transforms the touristic experience of riding the Singapore Flyer into an unsettling synopsis of the Singaporean condition: claustrophobia, paranoia, nostalgia and amnesia. Evan Tan's instrumental music is beguilingly beautiful, underscoring the grandeur of the wheel's ascent - yet theatremakers Paul Rae and Kaylene Tan undercut this with a disorienting verbal soundscape, spoken by a man and a woman whose ages and identities keep shifting. The male voice comes across as a Lear-like ancient engineer of Singapore's development, slipping occasionally into youth; the female as the cool-eyed daughter, witness to both nature and concrete, slipping occasionally into senescence. And both slip out of even these identities: him as machine, her as body, and both at once both the land and the roaring sea. It's puzzling and unsettling - perhaps a bit too poeticised at times, veering towards alienation - but still resonant and evocative, a bizarrely disturbing and intimate experience.



Nunsense by LaSalle College of the Arts
14/11/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

Nunsense is a lorryload of fun – and not just because it's a show about dancing nuns, but because it's a show about back-stabbing, limelight-hogging, thoroughly eccentric dancing nuns who still manage to be endearing amidst their acts of accidental manslaughter and drug abuse. These wildly dysfunctional sisters are played with talent and gusto by five young actresses of the BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Level 2 programme, supplying audiences with some beautiful singing and rollickingly good comic dancing. I've a few small issues with the show, such as the oddities of accents, the casting of a Mother Superior who couldn't look old or fat, and the sense that truly manic levels hadn't yet been reached in terms of acting. Yet the perfection of these details would've been merely the icing on the cake: this is a musical comedy that works, and at a mere $15, the tickets are incredible value for money for a great night out.



Death and Dancing by Buds Theatre Company
21/11/2008
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

Death and Dancing, an 80s British stand-up theatre piece about a young gay man and lesbian, is surprisingly relevant to us today. Some bits are dated - so much fuss about the simple action of a man trying on a dress, I ask you! - and some bits are very foreign - how many university students here have had the luck to encounter militant sexual radicalism in their own campus gay groups? Still, the questions raised about yuppie-hood, gay assimilation and the limitations of queer sexual categories are ones seldom bandied about even today, when our gay theatre scene is supposedly all gayed out.

Acting-wise, Rebecca Lee and Benjamin Wong have good chemistry in their roles as Max and Max, usually succeeding in their dramatic/comedic routines about what it's like being gay in university. However, Wong trips up a little on the high-paced, London rhythms of his lines, and can't quite command the stage when he's going solo. Lee, on the other hand, is in her element: strong, crisp and charismatic, she asserts a physical and emotional presence that's often very impressive. I'm ambivalent about the set: it's functional but a wee bit messy. Ultimately, though, I approve thoroughly of the decision to set this show in a bar rather than in a conventional theatre space.

(Full disclosure: Yi-Sheng recently worked with director Claire Devine in W!ld Rice's The Last Temptation of Stamford Raffles)



Catching Adam Cheng
by ACTION Theatre
22/11/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

Without doubt, this is the best ACTION Theatre production I've seen in the last five years. Playwright Jacke Chye has done a swell job refining his TheatreIdols-winning script about four old ladies escaping a nursing home for a concert. While it's still imperfect, the story scores big points with its light comedy, well-paced plot and eccentric, endearing characters, including the refined lady Veronica (Fanny Kee), the grumpy, wheelchair-bound invalid Peng Peng (Beatrice Chien), the sadistic staff nurse Dua Missy (Esther Yap) and the hapless goon of an orderly (Irwin See). And though they're newcomers to the professional stage, Carena Chor and Belinda Sunshine also do well in their roles as nursing home residents - Chor portrays the protagonist Swee Lin with a special understated strength and naturalism that wins us over. In fact, I'd say that director Jeffrey Tan's real triumph with this play was the casting: the chemistry between his actors is solid and infectious.

My complaints? Well, the play sags a little in the middle of the second half, Veronica's catchphrase of "Oh lordy" is annoyingly repetitive, the language feels a little too hip for the elderly, Lee Weng Kee's a little wooden, a few issues with volume… But you see, these are mere details. Compared to the glaring problems in many of the company's previous plays, this is gold.



…Dan Tinggal Tiga Baju Raya by panggung ARTS
29/11/08
First Impression by Kenneth Kwok
***

…Dan Tinggal Tiga Baju Raya is not particularly ambitious but enjoyable for what it is. It tells the story of three men reminiscing about growing up in the 80s, without grand statements or deep psychology. Mohd Zulfadli Mohd Rashid (big)’s script does veer into mawkish territory in places but, on the whole, it is a charming narrative steeped in nostalgia and Malay cultural practices and traditions and it is brought colourfully to life by director Helmi Fita who has a particularly good eye for the use of space. The strongest feature of the production though is the ensemble cast of Mish’aal Syed Nasar, Ebi Shankara and Ahmad Zakuan, all of whom are relative newcomers to the stage but are extremely likeable and perform with palpable commitment and heart. Their enthusiasm and chemistry with each other bring a particular joy to their scenes as children where they first become friends. Having said that, the play felt unbalanced because it spent so much more time on these childhood scenes while the recreation of the men’s lives as they grew older was presented only in fragments and flashes. This may have been intended as a reflection of how we tend to bask in golden memories and try to skip over the darker ones but, if so, this needed to have been more confidently articulated.



Simon Says by Richel Xie
08/12/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
**1/2

Richel Xie's embarked on a noble project to stage seldom-performed winners of the Singapore Young Dramatists' Award. The problem is, Alex Ye Kentang wrote this particular play as a teenager in '99, and boy, does it show. Besides the hair-raising, trapped-in-a-black-box adolescent angst, his characters' language is hopelessly overwrought – their speech doesn't even remotely resemble the way people communicate in real life. And predictably, the young actors aren't doing a great job humanising the clunky verbiage, occasionally mispronouncing the words and waxing operatic way too often (although granted, their physical acting is pretty decent). Surprisingly, however, the core of the piece is solid: it's a striking allegory for religious mania, and the characters, if annoying, are well-distinguished and their interactions make for a meaningful, gripping plot. Kinda makes you wonder what the playwright might be capable of now, given that he's nine years older and wiser.



Let Me Off! by Migrant Voices
14/12/08
First Impression by Ng Yi-Sheng
***1/2

I didn't have high hopes for this piece. Migrant Voices, in case you haven't heard, is a group that gives foreign domestic and construction workers the chance to create music, photography, literary and drama projects - and as noble as social work-related art is, it's not necessarily very good.

What I didn't count on, first of all, was that this would be a forum theatre piece – and this worked well with the mixed audience of regular joes, activists and migrant workers, who ended up being pretty gung-ho about their interventions into the anti-play about a maid who struggles with an unreasonable agent and employer, a boyfriend and an unwanted pregnancy. The talkbacks allowed for genuine insights into the laws and perspectives of maids in Singapore – with even a little disagreement thrown in. Plus, it didn't hurt that the piece incorporated humour, cruelty and bhangra dancing – plenty to watch and to feel.

Second of all, I didn't expect there to be so much talent involved in this piece. While most of the migrant worker cast spoke too softly and had trouble improvising, actresses Unmairoh and Sulastri were outstanding, and there was a whole load of professional local artists backing them up: emcees Sha Najak and Kok Heng Leun, playwright Haresh Sharma, director Rei Poh and actors Joanne Ng and Joey Chin. Not without its slip-ups, but definitely a fun show.


Email the Reviewers
Stephanie Burridge

Kenneth Kwok


Matthew Lyon

Ng Yi-Sheng

Deanne Tan

Malcolm Tay

Vivienne Tseng

Amos Toh

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.