“Adapting for the Stage”
Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 19 August 2017
The actors do Foley work with household props, gesturing to the sound crew. Sonny Liew draws at his desk, his progress projected live onto the back wall. The tech team and their work stations are all on stage; Boney M’s “Sunny” plays over the speaker system. When the song ends, an actor approaches a mic-stand onstage and when given her cue, begins hosting a radio show.
The radio format forms the backbone for the show initially, but as the production progresses, it disappears. It comes back in drips and drabs, in between theatrical renditions of Sonny’s latest work and musings by the radio presenter. It is this disregard for convention that makes Becoming Graphic an exceptional, ambitious, but at times confusing piece of theatre.
The show revolves around Sonny, exploring his latest project. The actors recreate his work, both visually and verbally. The multimedia, expertly crafted by Brian Gothong Tan, showcase Sonny’s process. Real interviews with Sonny’s family intermittently play over the speaker.
Edith Podesta constantly reminds us that we are watching a play about Sonny. There is no suspension of disbelief, immersing the audience in a fictional story; there is no illusion that we are watching anything but a play.
It is a truly ambitious task, bringing the graphic novel to the stage, transplanting one medium onto another. To do so, Podesta utilizes inventive and dynamic techniques such as shadow work and overhead projections, to integrate the live ensemble and the comic book. In each presentation, there is an element of struggle, putting the two mediums at odds with one another rather than neatly fitting together.
The enjoyment of these recreations hinge on their novelty, so when certain techniques like the live voiceover are re-used/overused, their initial freshness is lost.
One exceptional sequence mixes pre-recorded, accelerated footage of Sonny drawing and live projections of his sketches. At this point, Sonny is the only live part of the stage. The sequence prompts the audience to question what makes a medium.
Does “liveness” make theatre? Does sequential art make the comic book? Becoming Graphic provides no answers, leaving the audience to form their own opinions.
My major qualm is the production’s pacing. The show does not have a conventional narrative structure or an obvious through-line for the audience to follow. The shifts between sequences are jarring, discombobulating the show. I feel repelled rather than absorbed for most of the production. Having said that, it does not make the show any less thought-provoking or challenging, but less patient audiences should be wary. It is simply because this is not a show that flows naturally or can be fully appreciated in the moment.
Becoming Graphic is not for a passive audience member. It requires constant thought and, eventually, reflection. Personally, as an avid comic book reader, Becoming Graphic grasps what makes the two mediums special and distinct. Rather than hiding from the complications, Podesta and her team dive headfirst to confront the challenge, creating a memorable and poignant piece of theatre.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
BECOMING GRAPHIC by Sonny Liew and Edith Podesta
17 – 20 August 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.