Artitute’s writers reviewed two of the Festival’s highly anticipated events on its opening weekend.
The Chronicles of One and Zero: Kancil
Produced and Performed by: Zeugma, an artist collective that aims to explore ancient Asian folklore by reconstructing old and new narratives.
I went into the theatre without any expectations, albeit a little worried if it would be too abstract. Yet from the beginning to the end, I was completely awed by Gloria Tan’s energy, emotions and the team’s efforts in putting together the many tales of Kancil. It was refreshing and perfect synergy between the actor, multimedia, sound and voice overs for the other animals. I could feel the audience was following- we were entertained, we were thrown into the animal world with questions, and we continued to seek answers.
Some scenes are still etched in my mind as if they are fresh out from the oven; especially the scene when Kancil tricked the crocodiles so she could cross the river to eat those fresh mangoes. At that instant, I could really imagine how the white spongy pillow “mangoes” became so delicious. Kudos to Mango Man who held on to the “mangoes” so professionally, so much so I got distracted trying to figure out if he was real. He created such an important presence on stage that the audience asked about him during the Q&A session.
A tiny regret had to be my inability to fully appreciate the beauty and richness of the Malay language and poetry (despite learning Malay for 5 years). I would certainly love to see the Malay subtitles alongside the English ones, at the very least its beauty can be captured on screen if not internalized. Nonetheless, I still felt very touched to be able to witness such magic on stage.
The Shape of Bird
Written by: Jean Tay
Performed by: Tan Kheng Hua, Brandon Fernandez, Jean Toh and Thomas Pang
Truth is the thing with feathers.
The play opens with an unnamed writer (Tan Kheng Hua) squinting through a small crevice in the top of her cell, fixated on a bird. The said writer has to choose between a forced confession in order to see her daughter, or to protect her artistic integrity and continue to write letters and stories. In the way the pearl is an oyster’s autobiography, her story of Ann (Jean Toh) is later revealed to be not entirely fictional, and possibly a product of the author’s attempt to keep the memory of her lost husband and distanced daughter alive, as she is increasingly pushed to the end of her tether.
Metaphors run deep both in the fictional world of the play and in Mei Ann Teo and Benjamin Ho’s staging of it. The jailor (Brandon Fernandez) warns the writer about the potency of her stories and the invidious power of metaphors. In the direction of the play, simple but impactful symbolism and juxtapositions extend from the crepuscular cicadas versus the diurnal birds, the monochrome costuming to the newspaper littering the set, a tableau of written history. The puppetry and heavy mimesis also functions as a very apposite and elegant metaphor in expressing how stories are capable of ‘raising the dead’.
It is not difficult to see why the playwright, Jean Tay, called this her impossible ‘unproduceable’ play. Tay tries to make her characters sentient and rounded such that the jailor and Cicada Boy (Thomas Pang) are not archetypal evil representatives of the State, but rather people circumstanced by their family problems. She also ambitiously varies the suffering artist against an oppressive state narrative by having the author’s fiction and reality collide in an ultimate art mirroring real life climax. Yet despite being helmed by a lean and competent cast, the script has moments that are too heavy-handed at times, especially the lines concerning the dystopian government. Attempts at fleshing out character histories, such as the jailor’s son who only enjoyed the writer’s stories, also felt like sudden interjections and insufficiently developed. Within The Shape Of a Bird is no doubt the shape of a play, but perhaps it was trying to do too much in that slim one hour, and a while longer in the editing room would improve the storytelling of a play ironically about the power of storytelling.
The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs through 24 January 2016.
Tickets available on Sistic.
Sharon is drawn to museums…from Disney to The Little Prince to ramen exhibitions, she simply enjoys staring and standing in front of exhibits; allowing her thoughts to wander occasionally. In an alternate universe, she imagines herself drawing and drumming. Meanwhile, she travels with a pen and notebook, as well as a missing DSLR.
Alex Foo is all mirth and no matter, both the innocent flower and the serpent under it. He luxuriates in the arts and views Paradise as a life in museums, a library and the theatre.