LaSalle A Doll's House

Chinese. Malay. Indian. “Others”. These cultures were in an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, A Doll’s House. Thankfully, they were not treated into a touristy postcard.

As we the audience were entering the theatre, a doll-like girl was having a happy meal on stage. With playful music in the background, she seemed to be teasing us to guess whether the show had already started. She came forward into the spotlight, somehow transformed into a lady and Act 1 started.

The set included a TV room with a chandelier on the side and a lift, as we imagined with the few boards, hand-drawn symbols, lights and little sound effects. I initially thought the accents were confused. Later, I detected that the lady spoke to her Westerner husband with a Western accent and to others, with a Singaporean Chinese accent. Save for a few props and references to Chinese New Year, I did not realise this was set in a Chinese household. I guess this was as Chinese as Singaporean Chinese is. Interestingly, this came across without using any Singlish. Even the illegal money lender’s threats in the “lift” were in Chinese, not “O$P$” (“owe money, pay money”) in Singlish.

Act 2 had the same charismatic baddie, same “baldy” friend, same husband, “same” wife but in an Indian household. The cast interacted seamlessly with the fast-talking heads and legs on the video screen behind. The side screens flashed the surtitles to what was said in Tamil. It was fascinating how a simple piece of red cloth with 2 knots could convey different cultures, just by how the characters tied or draped it around themselves. The wisecracks made us think if we had any prejudice against the disabled, without spoiling the effect of the burlesque-like video. And as you would see in many Indian movies, there was a well choreographed lovey-dovey dance. It closed with a projection on the floor of evenly spaced vertical bars.

A few levels of floor boards cleverly demarcated the different rooms in the household for Act 3. A mist swirled, matching the white, natural and transparent colour scheme. The dialogues in Malay were almost sung. With a twirl, the Malay wife changed the style of her head scarf and her character. She “changed” out of her clothes to an identical set of clothes. Amidst the tensions, the maid scrubbed the floor in a measured rhythm. I must have heard the door slam.

Interpreting from this LaSalle production in March and its program sheet, I gather the play is classic because of the timeless question of (gender) roles and perhaps, (misguided) emotional ties. I shall let you find out the story line which has been translated into and interpreted in many languages.

Veteran Singapore directors Vadi PVSS (“Mumbai la” TV commercial), Noor Effendy Ibrahim (Substation) and Li Xie brought in their cultural experiences to good effect. They did not have to use Singlish at all to give the production a Singapore flavour. I should get round to watching Singapore Tamil theatre and Singapore Malay theatre!

LaSalle College of the Arts (LaSalle) proved that good arts experiences need not come at high priced tickets. There is really no need to resort to unnecessary crude actions or words to “reach out” to the audience. I commend the supporting actors for playing their roles consistently. With the strong acting, good comic timing and versatility of some cast members, and the cohesive crew, Singapore theatre can only get richer, even though we sadly just lost Emma Yong. I look forward to future productions within and beyond LaSalle.

The next LaSalle performing arts show:

What: Industry Showcase

When: 8pm Thu 10 May 12

Where: Level 3 Acting and Musical Theatre, LaSalle

The ticket was complimentary. The image is used with permission.