ACTOR, FORTY by The Necessary Stage

“Nobody will write a review for you.”

Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 3 February 2017

Less than 15 minutes into Yeo Yann Yann’s performance, I am sold. Such impeccable dexterity as an actor can only come with substantial experience, and, as Yeo reminds us during the play, she has more than 20 years of it.

The title, Actor, Forty, is a play on the Mandarin title of Summer Snow, a 1995 Hong Kong movie directed by Ann Hui (女人四十, directly translated as Woman, Forty). Yeo’s character in this performance is an actor who has been cast as the protagonist of that movie.

Playwright Haresh Sharma’s characteristic wit is detectable throughout the play. The play was written in English and then translated into not just Mandarin, but also multiple other languages and dialects including Cantonese, Hokkien and Malay. Yeo slips in and out of these languages (also different accents within the same language)  with finesse, conjuring effectively the myriad cultural contexts in which her character lives and works. This reflects not only her indubitable talent, but also exemplifies what happens when a team of collaborators – playwright, translator, dramaturg, actor – get it right.

Yeo’s character learns about her pregnancy while in the midst of filming for Summer Snow.  She is also 40 years old – a fact that is naturally cause for some concern. While the subject itself is not new and with many clichés looming, Haresh has managed to write a play that poignantly captures the nuances of the character’s predicament without being trite. One of my favourite lines, roughly translated, is “you can’t win awards for being a mother; nobody will write a review for you”.  This rings true for mothers in general while adding a bittersweet tinge for someone who happens to be an actor with multiple awards to her name.

I embody the same irony as I realise that I will soon be writing a review for this very performance.

The only part of the work about which I have doubts is the inclusion of the two stage assistants, who are visible on stage throughout most of the performance. They not only assist with costume changes, but also function as other (non-speaking) characters with whom Yeo interacts, and occasionally provide background vocal input. Their role seems rather substantial, and for this reason I hesitate to call the play a monologue in a strict sense, and while I can understand the decision to have them put on neutral facial expressions, it unfortunately appears contrived and awkward.

Nevertheless, this is a small gripe in the overall scheme of things. The many references to other works – films, television programmes and theatre productions from the ’80s and ’90s in Singapore and Malaysia – open up the play to a wider cultural and historical contextualisation beyond being just a personal story.

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ACTOR, FORTY by The Necessary Stage
3 – 6 February 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio


Jocelyn Chng holds a double Masters in Theatre Studies/Research. She is a founding member of the Song and Dance (SoDa) Players – a registered musical theatre society in Singapore. She is currently building her portfolio career as an educator and practitioner in dance and theatre, while pursuing an MA in Education (Dance Teaching).