Reviewer: Gabriel Lim
Performance: 25 April 2015, 3pm
In 1993, when the Saloma character in Off Centre remarked, “They laugh because we are mental patient, off centre,” it echoed across two decades, even finding its way into the O level examination syllabus. Haresh Sharma’s Off Centre has been restaged many times and it still serves as a reminder of the prejudice against people with mental illness.
Vinod (Ebi Shankara) sits on a chair, smiling and waving to the audience as they make their way to their seats. I smile back at him. When the play starts, Vinod remarks that only a handful (he mentions 12 out of 87) respond to his greetings and waving. And to the rest? He assumes that they do not respond because they know that he is mentally ill. This is a very important and intimate prologue to the play. I feel the production can push the prologue a little further to mark the moment.
The story then unfolds: Vinod meets Saloma (Siti K.) at a halfway house, both sufferers of mental illness. They fall in love, and find themselves trying to adapt to society and gain acceptance from their family. Most of the time, Vinod appears well-adjusted and he protects Saloma who suffers from schizophrenia. However, as the story progresses, Saloma slowly overcomes the voices in her head and Vinod starts to crumble. It is an emotional ride for the audience, seeing the star-crossed lovers struggle to make sense out of everything in their life.
Siti K. gives a wonderful portrayal of Saloma. Her Saloma speaks with a feeble voice; she cowers when she hears voices in her head; but above all, she is tenacious. The result is beautiful and poignant.
Although the stars of the show are Vinod and Saloma, the rest of the ensemble is no less important. They introduced an underlying parallel to the play; often putting on caricature masks and making offbeat movements across the stage in the foreground and background. This externalizes what goes on in the head of a mentally ill.
The lighting by Lim Woan Wen is commendable. At one point, Vinod’s back faces the audience and he is stark naked. A warm glow of light is cast on him, heightening the intensity of the moment. I find this moment performatively strong but makes Vinod’s end unnecessarily ambiguous. It is only at the end of the play where the audience learns of his fate.
This staging of Off Centre may fall short compared to its predecessors, but the impeccable performance of the actors certainly make up for any shortcomings – and I really cannot ask for more.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
OFF CENTRE by Esplanade’s The Studios: fifty
23- 26 April 2015
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Gabriel Lim awaits eagerly to start his undergraduate term in Yale-NUS liberal arts education this year, having just completed his term in National Service.