“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
Reviewer: Muhammed Faizad Bin Salim
Performance: 10 April 2015
“If you want to know my name, you have to get to know me first!” proclaims Ashley (Claire Chung), in her explanation as to why she adamantly refuses to abide by the school rule that requires all students of Trinity Girls School (TGS) to put on their nametags as part of the school uniform as it is clearly stated in the Student Handbook, a fact often harped on by the disciplinarian Miss Wong (Noorlinah Mohamed).
The preoccupation with naming or labeling conventions is a recurring motif in this play which questions the associations we tag to many things: the different academic streams – Special, Express, Normal, EM1, EM2, EM3 – and academic achievements like Bands 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is no coincidence too that the Shakespearean play that the class was studying was the tale of the star-crossed lovers ‘Romeo and Juliet’, themselves plagued, not by choice, by unfortunate last names. In trying to make the play more relatable for her students, Ms Sarah Hew (Oon Shu An), asks, “What is a Normal? It is nor hand nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a Man.”
Even the school as an institution is in the process of being conferred ‘Autonomous’ status as Principal Mrs Lim (Karen Tan) reminds her students and staff. Gaining autonomous status will allow the school to plan their own curriculum and activities as compared to other government-run schools. Ironically, in a bid to attain this coveted status, the school administrators seem more bent on adhering to the status quo rather than breaking boundaries.
The inclusion of Marianne’s (Lim Shi-An) character, the exemplary star student, the Limited Edition Barbie, as a foil to Daphne (Audrey Teong) and Ashley, the defective dolls is important to further drive home the point that we are all susceptible to seemingly innocuous labels and have our own demons to struggle with.
For a play that is so conscious about the effect that labels have on the selected parties, it is somewhat strange that in the costume design, the principal actors and the ensemble cast were “labeled” differently – the former with white blouses and the latter with black ones underneath their pinafores.
There are, of course, production elements that impresses: like the multi-purpose set which replicates different parts of school like the corridors, the elevated podium at the assembly ground and the black see-through mesh is even reminiscent of classroom blackboards but more importantly allows us to observe the ensemble in the background while still focusing on the principal actors in front.
Director Claire Wong’s decision to incorporate physical gestures and vocalized soundscapes is successful in evoking a believable convent school setting complete with the pre-requisite hymns.
After the curtain call, Checkpoint Theatre announced that there is an intention to restage the play in future and so begs the question: are you going to let this reviewer’s idiosyncratic take colour your own viewing of the play and enter the theatre with preconceived notions?
Or are you able to keep an open mind and get to know and assess the play on its own merits first before passing judgement?
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
NORMAL by Checkpoint Theatre
9 – 19 April 2015
Drama Centre Black Box
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Faizad is busy molding the future of the nation but on some nights he manages to escape the humdrum of reality to immerse himself in the world of theatre.