“Satisfaction brought it back”

Reviewer: Casidhe Ng
Performance: 28 August 2015

Continuing Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) trend of works that push the boundaries of any given medium is Margaret Leng Tan’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a series of compositions that are as theatrical as they are musical. At the end of the 2-hour performance, as the house lights come up for her curtain call, Tan stretches her hands out in admiration for her fellow contributors onstage: a plethora of instruments, knick-knacks, toys and masks.

Cabinet of Curiosities is arguably a perfect encapsulation of Tan’s New Music. It is an extensive showcase of her capability to oscillate between virtuosic musician and emotive performer, but is ultimately an indication of her sensitivity toward the utility of objects in creating sound. In Alvin Lucier’s Nothing is Real, the Beatles’ track “Strawberry Fields Forever” is amplified through a teapot, producing an intriguing quality of music that reverberates in the air. It is fascinating to watch. For a moment it seems that Tan herself disappears and the pot, entirely alive, sings through each lift of the lid.

It is with similar sophistication and respect that Tan brings her other objects to life: chess pieces on a board move with different personalities, the toy pianos become cheeky, playful creatures singing their otherworldly tunes whilst Tan herself brews tea. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! by Lu You is the highlight of the evening: Tan is at her best as a singular performer as she embodies each feeling of regret and lost love with remarkable capability, constructing the universe through the sounds of birds and crickets but never straying from the strength of the translated text. The poem, recited in Peking-opera fashion, is standalone beautiful. Yet, it is the pairing of its lyrics with Tan’s emotive disposition, intertwined with the disjuncture of its disparate sounds that makes the experience so unique. Finally, Curios illustrates Tan’s instrumental flair, from her work with cymbals, gongs and bowls with a background projection of the Kassino clowns, to the utterly captivating music that emanates from her little music box.

At times, the paraphernalia seem underused, or jarringly in contrast to other elements with no apparent purpose. The projections, though occasionally effective in creating arresting stage pictures, seem intrusive and distracting with their drastically differing styles.

In its entirety, Cabinet of Curiosities presents an interesting music-theatre experience that is booming with potential, a play on forms and mediums that are rarely (if ever) seen in Singapore. Charged with truly awe-inspiring moments, Tan’s work, though occasionally overwhelming, is nevertheless audacious, groundbreaking and idiosyncratic. Come for Tan’s musical technique, but stay for her provoking creations, her lovely instruments, and the images conjured by everything combined.


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27 – 29 August 2015,
SOTA Studio Theatre


Casidhe Ng is currently majoring in Theatre and Literature at School of the Arts, Singapore.