>WHITE SAILS OVER BLUE BLUE SEA by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 14 jan 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: 17 smith street
>rating: ***

>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 was the mutiny of plastic - it was everywhere.

From the floor to the railings to the walls, plastic sheets covered the whole building's interior (and every object in the building) in a surreal display of whiteness. Live fishes in plastic bags hung from the sides of the staircase while television sets covered in plastic emitted a ghastly light blue hue on the room. All the performers were dressed in total white - white singlets and white shorts carrying white umbrellas. It was Wallpaper gone ballistic, minimalism gone amok.

Looking for an easy night out and comfortable traditional linear plots? Ditch the idea of even contemplating going to WHITE SAILS OVER BLUE BLUE SEA. Director Goh Boon Teck never had much regard for the conventional theatre of story telling in his plays - instead his creations are speed demon rides of fragmented voices and disjointed chorus. Do not look for conventional roles of the hero and the damsel. Instead you are given the freaks, divas and muses. You get a new high from watching his creations - that is if you understand them in the first place.

Looking at the performers pouring their hearts to you, you are the ultimate voyeur treading ever so softly into the subject's head hoping that he would catch you spying. All three actors spouting intimate secrets about sex and desire (not to you mind you), it was a tantalising experience to see Patricia Toh in rhapsody, wrapping herself slowly with the phallic water hose. All the main actors wore either swimming trunks or underwear for the most part of the play, creating an even greater level of voyeurism within the actor-audience dynamics. Due the spatial limitation of having the play in a shop house, the actors were in close vicinity of the audience - one could reach out and touch those beads of sweat glistering on the skin. Destroying the conventional fourth-wall-seated-audience practise was an ingenious move that worked by reducing the space and inertia between the audience and the performer. The result was a smothering experience, much akin to savouring live pornography in front of you - a hypnotic swirl of flesh.

Using the intimate setting of the old shop house, audience was restricted to 40 persons per night as the audience was herded into various levels for the different parts of the play. However what these naturalistic venues posed in terms of problems is the vocal articulation of the cast. Except for Patricia who enunciated her lines with care, the two male leads lacked the vocal projection or at times mumbling their lines in moments of rapture. Most of the lines were simply lost to the wind while the audience tried their darned best to decipher their body language.

>>'It was a private show, make no mistake about it and it was all the more delicious for it.'

An entire script was replaced by poems from Jonathan Lim and this created a curious effect. Instead of coherent dialogue that flowed into one another, we get choppy one-liners that jutted out from the whole framework of the performers' speech. This worked for the first half of the play when the idea was still fresh but after thirty minutes of one-liners, polemics becomes platitudes and these lines oozing with initial shock therapy become sensationalism. The problem is that if each line could stand alone on its own poetic(or sensationalistic) quality, the whole avalanche of one-liners becomes a chant, devoid of linkage and significance as a whole. Deconstruct the dialogue and in the process face the danger of reducing it to mere words and sound bites, actors into mouthpieces. "Join me in the gutter"; "My body is a playground"; "Be my whore" - it becomes a snowstorm of perverted haikus.

Production design by Tommy Wong was flawless - the whole aesthetic white gone mental look was totally in sync with the ethos of the play. Incorporating the whole idea of "plasticness" into the play, the set was vital in transmitting the nuances of the play to the audience. To Tommy's credit, there was no need for any guessing once the audience stepped into the shop house.

Stream of consciousness. Dialogue with a Solipsist. Poetry too personal to have any resonance for the audience. While the poetry had snack-sized one liners one after the other for the audience, the whole nature of Jonathan's poetry was too obscure for the audience to really know what it all meant. Half disguised in verbal strip tease, you slowly see the different parts of the body but as a whole it makes no sense at all. Only to the solipsist would fully comprehend his magnus opus - It's quite clear all your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear, from me.

The three principal actors did well in their roles. Without a central personality to grasp on (they had names like Center, Right and Left for one thing), it was admirable that they could flesh out the individualistic quality of their roles with such accuracy. Foo Tuan Tong was consuming in his acting, fire burning in those intense pupils, it was hard to look away from his spellbinding performance. Yeo Khan Tze as a contrast to Tuan Tong had the right mix of weight and vulnerability, lightness of touch but at the same time carrying the burden of infinite sadness. Patricia Toh as the spitfire muse gone hyper was feisty enough to balance the other two actors.

One is tempted to question if Art is not used to communicate then what is the purpose of Art itself? What is the whole purpose of a play that speaks not to the audience but rather to itself? While it was all pretty and nice, WSOBBS faced this problem of talking essentially to herself, rather than the audience. A private show of coruscating wit and brilliance, it left the audience outside the shop window peering in, trying to get a glance at the Christmas decorations.

Choreography by Gani Abdul Karim was outstanding in its originality. Using the constraints of the shop house to his benefit, Gani created movement pieces that exploited the limited space given to him. Utilising windows, staircases and even roads were as moving stages, it was an innovative step. At the start of the play, the audience was asked to stand at the staircase while the actors started the prologue right there on the streets while the passer-by gawked and laughed. In another sequence, the three principal cast did a vertical waltz on the narrow staircase just outside the window. Water, sweat, near naked bodies and one old colonial stair case mingled for a few precious moments producing an intoxicating siren of beauty and fluidity.

Perverts looking in. Voyeurs having a mental masturbation. Exhibitionists having an orgasm peeling off their layers one by one. An orgy, menage a trois at the staircase. It was a private show, make no mistake about it and it was all the more delicious for it. But what Boon Teck didn't realise was that pornography has the same effect after a while, it doesn't engage, it doesn't connect - it hypnotises. It is detached and sterile - just like plastic.

In the program sheet, Tommy Wong cautioned "escape before you discover that love is plastic danger". They forgot that excessive self-love is then the most dangerous of it all.