At least these two shows could be said to have been taking bead on some worthwhile targets and in some moments actually succeeding hitting the mark. Neither claim could be made for 7x7: spell#7 remixed, which was played out in an upstairs space in Little India which would seem to defy adequate staging of a play.
A recent I-S guide to Singapore theatre headlined this show as one of four over the last two years that had its reporter asking, “Why, God, why are we watching this?” As I have gone through a number of religious crises in my life and am now reluctant to question why a benevolent, all-loving, all-powerful God would allow productions like this to be done in a universe S/He created, I pursued a more profane line of inquiry, asking, “What the f*** am I doing here?”. Repeatedly. For the better part of a very bad hour.
The above title supposedly refers to the fact that it is 7 playlets of 7 minutes each. Well, it is true that the action runs roughly 49 minutes, which in this case proved to be about 47 minutes too long.
The piece is constructed - excuse me, slapped together - almost as if to prove that this kind of free-association theatre is intrinsically dreadful. I doubt that was the intention, but it was the clearest impression I left the show with. Eschewing craft, character and construction, the script snatched bits of dialogue and emotion from various sources, pasting them on to original text. It poached Pinter at his bleakest stretch of self-parody, before shepherding Sam Shepard well past his evocative ambiguities into utter obfuscation.
The acting here - and I use the term advisedly - did nothing to help the seven pieces rise above their own severe limitations. Indeed, in almost every case, the performances only shone a harsh light on these limitations.
As 7x7: spell#7 remixed is a selection (I’d hate to have seen what didn’t get selected) of past works from spell#7, the seven snippets theoretically might have made more sense in the context of their original packaging. If so, then it is irresponsible, quite irresponsible, to throw these bits together, then ask a general audience to travel across town and pay $15 to witness this rehash.
This kind of show must be why so many people I talk to here tell me they do not go to local theatre anymore because they find shows so bad or incomprehensible. This show was both, and it hurts the overall theatre environment by driving people away from local productions, back to the safety of the TV set or the much cheaper escape of the cinema, where you know that at least you’ll get good visuals and something fairly coherent.
But, happily, not all is dreary on the local contents front. To give us a peek at what this focus could produce, in late May, TheatreWorks held a free presentation of the Discovery Stage from its Hidden Voices project. This project seeks to uncover and reveal the “thoughts and feelings of marginalized and often voiceless people” which rarely or ever make their way to the stage or the TV screen. The nine writers involved in this project went around finding and then interviewing marginalized, usually unnoticed people whom they sensed had their own interesting tales to tell.
This first stage of the project served up dramatized readings of scripts crafted from these interviews. The playwrights’ job was to shape and edit the actual words of the interviewees, though in a few case, the writers cheated and added a few sparkling phrases of their own to drive home a point more effectively.
What we got were glimpses into lives lived in the corners, the cracks and crevices of Singaporean society. The accounts were alternately touching, humane, uplifting, at times depressing, almost always interesting. The most encouraging aspect of this reading was how the monologues were able to focus on the simple poetry of the quotidian that these real-life characters could bring out in detailing their activities, fears, hurts and joys.
The standout pieces of Stage One were Tan Suet Lee’s portrait of a wet market merchant; Edwin Roberts’ look at the discomforts of a Singaporean Malay who feels like an outcast in his own country, especially since the war on terrorism got roiling/churning; Verena Tay’s look at the dedication of an older woman making her family’s favourite dishes; Daphne Chang’s interview with a social worker who deals with the deaf talking about her work and the different degrees of silence she encounters; and Ng Swee San’s sketch of two Singapore-based Filipinos in very different situations, but with achingly similar difficulties. The writers and their subjects were ably supported by a four-person cast under the direction of Lim Yu Beng (who also apparently lent guidance in paring down some of the longer scripts). Considering that some of the actors involved did not even get to see these scripts until two or three days before the first reading, their skill in giving flesh and blood to these voices was particularly commendable. Both praise and gratitude are due Chermaine Ang, Margaret Chan, Herwan Abdul Saman and Godfrey Yeo for this work.
QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002