DARK ROOM by Edith Podesta

“Chained and Connected”

Reviewer: Beverly Yuen
Performance: 30 April 2016

Dark Room, a docudrama written and directed by Edith Podesta, shares the true stories of former inmates of Changi Prison. They are based on recorded interviews which lasted an average of two hours each. The first incarnation of the play was entitled Dark Room x8 and staged as a work-in-progress in 2014.

The set, designed by Chris Chua, is symmetrical in most of its configurations. It is unbearably sharp and geometrical with its lines, edges, pointedness and rectangularity. Coupled with the harsh lighting design by Adrian Tan – which casts lines, angular shapes, and shadows – the stage is transformed into an enclosed space of castigation, control, and confinement.

The internment experienced by the prisoners is also enhanced by Darren Ng’s sound effects of metal prison doors opening and shutting, and the metallic sounds of bars and chains. However, at some points, the sound is so abrupt that it interrupts the performers delivering their texts.

Prison life is depicted as boredom, loss and fear.  The inmates play games, share meals and singing sessions to relieve the tedium. Their lives in the prison are “chained and connected to one another.” They are visited by their parents, represented by a middle-aged couple played by Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin.

Amongst the cohesive ensemble of 11, Oliver Chong and Pavan J Singh constantly engage the audience with their adroit performances. They deliver their characters convincingly with a pertinent grasp of rhythm in their actions and speech, tinted with a sense of wretchedness and dark humour.

The other six male prisoners add diversity to the spectrum of personalities.  Nelson Chia and Noor Effendy Ibrahim play the long-term inmates who orientate and give advice to the newbies; Timothy Nga plays the gay inmate who is placed in the same cell as the other straight men; Ian Tan plays a discouraged ex-convict who struggles with issues of acceptance in the society; Mohd Fared Jainal plays the melancholic inmate; and Erwin Shah Ismail plays the inmate who sheds light on the life in prison with his composed, and occasionally perceptive account.

Shafiqhah Efandi, who plays the only female prisoner in the piece, sustains her acting with a poignant inner soul-scape. She delivers her final soliloquy compellingly, with each word piercing right into the heart of the viewers.

The script is a sincere and intelligent piece of writing, especially with its use of humour amidst the intense treatment of the subject. However, the overly-dense text of the play – which clocks at 2 hours and 15 minutes – falls flat at some moments during the second half of the show. By this time, there is hardly any display of the intention and subtext behind the lines. However, this is a well-researched, earnest, and humanity-championing piece of work that should be seen by more people.

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DARK ROOM by Edith Podesta
28 – 30 April 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio


Beverly Yuen is an arts practitioner, and co-/founder of Theatre OX and In Source Theatre. She keeps a blog at beverly-films-events.blogspot.sg.