“Offending the Audience”
Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 12 February 2017
After 40 minutes, no actor has stepped onstage. Several minutes have passed since the actors were last heard over the speaker system. After a prolonged silence, an audience member crosses the stage floor. There is tension in the air as she crosses the stage. When she sits down next to her friend at the far wall, the audience lets out an uneasy laugh. Nobody knew if she was a performer or an audience member. This brief, and perhaps unintended, moment encapsulates the special quality of Liu Xiaoyi’s Offending the Audience.
All lines between performer, performance, audience, stage, and reality are erased, leaving an audience both thoroughly confused and challenged.
Liu has created a divisive piece of work. But by any measure, it is a success.
Though described as an adaptation of Peter Handke’s 1966 script, Liu and his creative team have devised both a reply and a rebuttal to anti-theatre. This production brings Brechtian ideas to extreme levels: the house-lights are on almost throughout the show, the doors are wide open, and at one point, the crew take out the bleachers. Liu’s bold decisions lead to an audience, unsure of what is performed and what is real.
Anti-theatre risks becoming hypocritical: it critiques theatre, yet uses theatre to critique itself. This production refuses to fall into that trap as it does not merely reinterpret Handke’s themes, it attacks them. Ang Gey Pin delivers a passionate diatribe against Handke’s principles. Over the intercom, the actors debate on how to create “a performance without performing”. As each proposal is suggested and rejected, the ideas become more ludicrous. Handke himself described his script as a thesis of sorts, and as such, Liu and the ensemble and tear apart his argument.
The major flaw of the production is the disjunction between its comedic first half and its depressing finale. The audience members were very attracted to the entertaining conversations between the actors, leaving many confused or dissatisfied with the ending of the piece. Some felt they should laugh, others tried to force the ending by triggering applause, and one member even heckled the actors during the sombre closing scene. Yet, it is for this reason that Offending the Audience is undeniably successful. Every audience member either leaves offended or satisfied. If the audience member is offended, then Liu and his team have succeeded. If the audience is satisfied, Liu and his team still win. Liu’s team challenges the conventions of theatre to create a truly remarkable piece of theatre.
Granted, the production may not be for everyone, but then again, perhaps that is the point.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE by Liu Xiaoyi
10 – 12 February 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.