“(Blast) to the Past”
Reviewer: Casidhe Ng
Performance: 22 March 2015, 3pm
Part of the National University of Singapore’s Arts Festival 2015 (the theme being “Spirit of the Times”), Chair is a dramatized reading of three original plays written by students. The scripts used Desmond Sim’s The Chair as inspiration and a springboard. Set in specific locations within the nostalgic and well-conserved Peranakan home “Baba House”, the three plays are joined by overarching themes of distance, loss, familial times and change, as well as the inevitable erosion of the past.
“Moving” by Vanessa Ronald invites us into a dysfunctional family trapped between the past and the future. The rebellious eldest daughter (played remarkably well by Zhou Yutong) is determined to pursue an education overseas against her parents’ wishes, as the family faces the possibility of losing their home due to housing redevelopments. Due to the brisk reading of the lines some nuances of the text are lost, and the pacing could have been better in ensuring a build-up to the climax.
Jenny Ganeshrays’s duologue “Hungry at Midnight” utilizes the space and atmosphere of the Baba House to its fullest, and also features wonderful chemistry between its two lead actors, making this the highlight of the three. A small issue is the shocking revelation of Vicki’s (Vanessa Ronald) lifestyle overseas, which introduced an element of unexpected melodrama. This throws the piece out of the reality it has constructed.
“Tok Panjang” by Goh Koon Hui is an ambitious non-linear play that spans several generations, tracing the lineage of two Peranakan families whose pasts are littered with unfortunate occurrences surrounding homosexual tendencies. Despite the students’ best efforts to brand the various characters with physical differences such as the wearing of a T-shirt, the characters remain indistinct and inconsistent. Due to the lack of clarity of scenes that occur in different time periods, the play loses an overall flow, becoming simply a collation of vignettes that appear to revolve around the cyclical nature of history. The references to homosexuality and possible incest possesses little sensitivity to either matter. After two particularly well-crafted and well-executed plays, it seemed rather disappointing that the last came across as under-rehearsed and messy despite its apparent potential.
In spite of everything, Desmond Sim and his students have managed to craft a remarkable experience, which at its heart, is simply the act of being in midst the incredible interior of the Baba House. What a way to spend the Sunday afternoon: soaking up history, watching contemporary stories play out in a traditional setting, and to plainly enjoy the sheer element of storytelling.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
CHAIR by Desmond Sim with NUS Talents
21 – 22 March 2015
NUS Baba House
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Casidhe Ng is currently majoring in Theatre and Literature at School of the Arts, Singapore.