ART STUDIO by Nine Years Theatre

“Some Enchanted Evening.”

Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 17 August 2017

The Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA) returns with its 2017 edition with a thoroughly absorbing festival opener, Art Studio. It’s based on a novel by Singaporean poet, novelist, and literary critic, Yeng Pway Ngon, and produced by Nine Years Theatre (NYT). NYT’s co-founder and artistic director Nelson Chia – who adapted the novel and directed the resulting play – has courageously created a choreographed piece that showcases his experience on the Suzuki Method of Actor Training and Viewpoints, and which his theatre ensemble has adopted effectively.

Viewpoints is an improvisational system that trains an actor to use their body in time and space to create meaning, while The Suzuki Method restores the wholeness of the human body to the theatrical context and uncovers the actor’s innate expressive abilities with a rigorous physical discipline. The two techniques complement each other and gives artists the control to make conscious, deliberate choices in performance. No other theatre company in Singapore has used them with such dedication as NYT, and it is wonderful to see the results in such a richly textured, poignant and moving tribute to artists.

Whilst a stylistic piece – it has no extravagant staging, and minimal multi-media usage – it relies on the buy-in of the audience to imagine the changes in settings and time created and described by the ensemble.  Each movement, stage business, scene change seems to move to a rhythm set by them.  Clearly ‘less is more’ works as an asset to this piece.

That everyone in the ensemble tells the story at some point also engages.  The story begins with a young school dropout coerced by his friend to become a model for life drawing by a group of artists. It then splinters to follow the journeys of these artists over a period of almost 60 years (from the 1950s to 2010 Singapore), told in the third person, or through one person’s subtext, or like a Greek chorus. The storytelling is shared fluidly amongst the performers, and makes the story unfold ‘live.’

Some of the best moments are the ones that come completely out of left field.  A bit of absurdity (e.g. an actor coming out as a mynah bird, or the impression of French people in a very funny routine) helps to break the seriousness, and shows how NYT is willing is to break from the norm.

Whilst the one regret this reviewer had is not being able to appreciate the piece in its chosen performed language (surtitles don’t always give you the full meaning or intention of its translation from the original), one acknowledges this enchanting work from NYT that has succeeded in touching the hearts of the audience by the generous and rapturous applause given at curtain call.

It is heartening to see NYT take great leaps to bring Chinese language theatre to another level in Singapore’s art scene.

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ART STUDIO by Nine Years Theatre
17 – 19 August 2017
Victoria Theatre


Christian is a C42 Boiler Room 2016 playwright, and enjoys being an audience member to different mediums of the arts. He finds arts invigorating to the soul, and truly believes that the vibrant arts scene has come a long way from its humble beginnings.