“The play’s the thing”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 13 July 2017
NS50 celebrations are currently in full swing to recognise those who are serving or have served National Service over the years, with activities ranging from giving them shopping vouchers to putting on an array of army-themed events. One such event is Checkpoint Theatre’s FRAGO, which focuses on the trials and tribulations of a group of operationally ready National Service Men as they embark on one of their final high key reservist training sessions in the field. The play is written by Checkpoint’s associate artist Lucas Ho and directed by artistic director Huzir Sulaiman, and this funny and nuanced work should resonate with all Singaporean men who have gone through the NS Journey and their families.
Aaron Yap’s set design is simple, with screens depicting silhouettes of a tank and other militaristic visuals hoisted on three sides of the performance space. They are used to provide a backdrop for the on-stage action, as well as surtitles when Mandarin or other dialects are used during the performance. There is also good sound design – there are some great classical music choices and updated renditions of army songs – and imaginative use of miming props or stylized military exercise sequences like stripping a rifle or attacking enemies. All this allows the audience focus on the intimate conversations shared between this band of brothers, and it is nice to see the text take paramount importance in this work.
Huzir has cast a powerful ensemble cast of mostly young and fresh actors who brought Ho’s text and dialogue to life. From sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly in their lives, it is clear that the actors have touched on their own personal experiences. And they are bold enough to unmask this with their ‘buddy’ or peers on stage, and with the audience too. With the honesty in the text and performance, this play thoroughly engages.
Whilst a male heavy play, the most understated performance for this reviewer came from one of two females in the cast – Jo Tan. Her performance as a seasoned but tired Female Warrant Officer who has come to accept the glass ceiling she has hit, and the sexism prevalent in the system, is incredibly restrained and nuanced. One hopes she can touch on her vulnerable side more in future roles.
If the use of dialect and expletives – largely common in military chat amongst the men – turn you off, and you are up for more slapstick humour showcasing how boys become men, this piece will not be up your alley.
But for those who can appreciate the nurturing and grooming of a new generation of local playwrights that write with passion – something very welcoming in today’s theatre landscape, where style often takes precedence over substance and story gets lost – FRAGO would be this reviewer’s choice to support, hands down.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
FRAGO by Checkpoint Theatre
13 – 23 July 2017
Drama Centre Black Box
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christian is a C42 Boiler Room 2016 playwright, and enjoys being an audience member to different mediums of the arts. He finds arts invigorating to the soul, and truly believes that the vibrant arts scene has come a long way from its humble beginnings.