Reviewer: Selina Chong
Performance: 4 January 2017
The exercise of theatre reviewing is both retrospective and necessarily judgmental. As I sit here deliberating what to write, it strikes me as somewhat cruel that I’m attempting to pass judgment on a private and moving piece about labels and racism.
The first thing that strikes me as the lights are dimmed is Joe walking onto stage from a seat in the audience. He emerges as one of us. By association, every single one of us is now as vulnerable to the experience Joe shares with us, making it absolutely impossible for us not to empathise with and inhabit his life’s experience.
Another important element for me is the form: the monologue. It effectively creates a sense of a private dialogue between the performer and the audience. It is intimate and moving, and it is difficult to disengage from the performance. Simultaneously, it presents me with a bit of a paradox: if identity is socially constructed, and that socialized identity is a far cry from the self-contained and controlled environment created by a monologue.
Given that the production is a monologue and all we can heard is Joe’s voice, he skillfully employs accents and impersonations to prevent monotony. Trump’s presidency becomes more real as we continue towards his inauguration on January 20th. Unsurprisingly, the racist vitriol delivered in his voice draws the greatest response from the audience. While those around me laugh, I confess to feeling a lump in my throat. Joe suggests that labels and stereotypes go together, and perhaps that is what tickled the audience: a shared understanding grounded in stereotypes that have become common. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by petty over-generalisations sancitioned by the power of political office.
Overall, I am most impressed by the writing. Joe’s texts are intelligent and thoughtful, deeply personal but also instantly recognisable. Through his own experience growing up as a biracial child in Southwest England, Joe draws me into his world in which I examine our own race relations in Singapore. Questions such as what makes a good migrant and a bad immigrant resonate loudly in Singapore. As a Chinese Singaporean, how often am I aware of the privilege accorded by the colour of my skin?
The M1 Fringe Festival 2017 invites us to question and push our understanding of Art and Skin. Labels successfully explores the literal aspect of Skin and how societies have conflated the twin ideas of race and skin, and how human behaviours reflect race as a cruel social construct.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
LABELS by Worklight Theatre
4 – 5 January 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Selina loves the theatre and its ability to engage, enrapture, and entertain. The magic of the stage never ceases to create joy and wonder for her. The potential of the theatre to educate also dovetails with her teacher duties and she wishes more young people had time to watch a show instead of attend another tuition lesson.