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.
As bilingual as Andrea de Cruz, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble is probably
the only group around who could pull off something like these back-to-back
productions of the same award winning play, first in Mandarin then in
English. Bravely, they have eschewed the temptation to make these carbon
copies of each other - apart from sharing the same set and basic text,
these two shows have nothing to do with each other.
Boon Teck's localised Mandarin version, Beatrice Chia's production
is carefully not located anywhere specific. The place names in Jonathan
Harvey's text, so redolent of their own particular corner of southeast
London, have been carefully excised, and the British colloquialisms Americanised
("spots" and "slag" become "zits" and "slut").
This may make the play more "international" or "universal",
but smacks of dumbing down and loses the rich social context against which
Harvey's characters move, and which lends them depth.
>>'The Mandarin production was always just a step away from Channel
8 melodrama; the English version is more nuanced, darker, going in for
measured performances and daringly long pauses'
The backbone of the play is the same: the homosexual love affair between
two teenage boys, Jamie and Ste. Caleb Goh and Kevin Murphy are touching
in these roles, tentatively recreating the awkwardness of first love and
balancing their mutual desire with a very real fear of those around them
finding out - their working class neighbours and schoolmates. While capturing
the angsty frustration of his character, Goh strays over the top, so much
so that at times he appears to be playing a whiny twelve-year-old. His
excesses are particularly painful when set against Murphy's restrained,
of the cast is excellent. Janice Koh is edgy as Jamie's barmaid mother,
Sandra, struggling to cope with both her son's situation and her gormless
artist boyfriend (Mark Richmond, a masterpiece of self-centred stupidity).
Rounding off this motley crew is Emma Yong as their school-dropout neighbour,
Leah. Obsessed with Mama Cass, she sets herself on a self-destructive
trajectory that culminates in a tragicomic drug-fuelled scene in which
she tries to become the late American singer, with a pillow stuffed down
her shirt and lovely deep south accent.
It is a pity
though that Yong does not actually sing, but only lip-synchs to Cass classics.
Chia is obviously not one of those directors who feels herself bound by
the text. Always keen to push the envelope (her last collaboration with
Toy Factory was called 'Shopping and 'F***ing'),
she has actually upped the occurrences of the word "cunt" in
Harvey's already expletive-rich text. Her changes sometimes add to the
production (notably a segment featuring a recorded interview with Cass),
but at other times are of questionable value. Lines are changed around
seemingly at will, and more seriously, the end of the play is altered
so that instead of moving away as they do at the end of Harvey's version,
symbolising a new beginning, Jamie and Sandra stay put so that ultimately
nothing seems to have materially changed.
aside, Chia has shaped her material well. Whereas the Mandarin production
was always just a step away from Channel 8 melodrama, the English version
is more nuanced, darker, going in for measured performances and daringly
long pauses. Goh aside, the cast is uniformly good and inhabits the stage
well, so that the small space that seemed cramped in Goh Boon Teck's version
feels just right here. It never completely pulls together, though - perhaps
because the hacked-up text has ends dangling, perhaps because of Goh's
overplaying - but what there is, is truthful, moving, and - well - beautiful.