Reviewer: Cordelia Lee
Performance: 29 June 2017
The first quarter of 2017 saw past works by local playwright Haresh Sharma return to the stage. Esplanade’s The Studios presented MARGINS, a month-long season comprising four of Sharma’s works – Fundamentally Happy, With/Out, This Chord and Others, and Hope. Additionally, Those Who Can’t, Teach was restaged by The Necessary Stage (TNS), where Sharma sits as resident playwright.
In what seems like a year of celebrating Sharma’s contribution to Singapore’s theatre scene, TNS has collaborated with director Natalie Hennedige for its 30th anniversary season to present Sharma’s playwriting legacy in a single play.
Enter Being Haresh Sharma.
Do be prepared to discard any ideas of watching a conventional play. Unlike its predecessors, Being Haresh Sharma is a refreshing break away from the easy linear narrative and largely naturalist acting TNS has recently been comfortable with. No singular storyline exists here. The play is strung together by vignettes, each inspired by a theme or motif found in Sharma’s works. Hennedige rounds up a handful of characters, aptly extracting snippets from full-length plays and splicing them together in each scene.
In one instance, a dreamlike pastiche of recurring human relationships greets the audience. Vinod and Saloma from Sharma’s Off-Centre, share the stage with Tara and Latchmi, a female pair in afro wigs from Abuse Suxx!. Taking turns, the couples expound with emotional intensity. As couple #1 convey their struggle against the shackles of mental illness through heightened physicality, Tara and Latchmi attempt to reconcile their existential views on love as the volatility of relationships threaten to divide.
Beginnings, sickness, love, grief, detention: these are the themes projected on screen and explored in this 2 hour 10 minute retrospective.
Regardless of the scene’s overarching theme, Hennedige consistently treats her audience, through costume choice and props, to a visual feast of bold patterns and neon colours. Simultaneously, multimedia runs in the backdrop to layer the performance further. Aerial shots of Singapore’s HDB flat landscape visually establishes a scene’s setting as a familial argument erupts on stage. And as Wendy (Karen Tan) from Model Citizens mourns her dead son, we see a mother’s pain adjacently captured on screen where she searches for him silently. While the psychedelic visual palette accompanied by golden hits and discordant beats do capture our attention, prolonged exposure can become a tad trying. For those unfamiliar with Hennedige’s style, this sensory overload threatens to alienate them before the two hours ten minutes are done.
The play ends by mirroring its beginning. The ensemble number off Sharma’s published plays in the same order, counting up to a hundred and three. Yet beyond its skilful execution and poignant content, Being Haresh Sharma feels strangely like a posthumous tribute to the artist. While its content contains beautiful moments, the whole concept of journeying through and celebrating a playwright’s works seems slightly gratuitous and self-congratulatory. Perhaps Being Haresh Sharma plays best to a niche audience – the fans of both Haresh Sharma and TNS since its conception 30 years ago.
With proper funding and the right support, possibilities are aplenty when staging a play. Yet, it still begs the question whether this commemorative production by The Necessary Stage was really, truly necessary.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Being Haresh Sharma by The Necessary Stage and Cake Theatrical Productions
29 June – 02 July 2017
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cordelia is a second-year Theatre Studies and English Linguistics double major. She views the theatre as a liminal space providing far more than simply entertainment, and she especially appreciates avant-garde performances.