“Concentrate on the dog wagging his tail, not on that the tail might wag the dog.”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 29 March 2017
Nestled in lush greenery within giant ivory towers, the Yale-NUS Black Box plays host to Petty People – a production by the 2017 graduating class of the NUS Theatre Studies course, directed by NUS alumni and theatre practitioner Thong Pei Qin.
At a time when established theatre companies have been strategically reviving their popular shows to guarantee bums on seats, it is commendable that these students decided to stage an original show. Along with an encouraging director, they had taken the time to collaborate, conceptualize, write, perform, design, and market the devised piece.
Alas, all this praise goes to naught.
The play – which is about a dead dog’s wagging tail and its relation to the characters – is a culmination of what the students have learnt over the last three years. And they throw in almost every theatre form possible but the kitchen sink. They use multimedia, absurdist, tableau, monologue, musical, physical, and even Brechtian elements to create a melodramatic soap-opera of a first half. It then goes into a very chaotic second half where the cast gets to undress, goof around in dim lighting, act like animals, step on balloons, and go crazy as the show unravels into an organized mess.
Where is the director in all this? Thong must be held accountable here, as it appears that she did not rein in the students’ creative ideas enough to shape them into a more cohesive and accessible whole. If she had, Petty People may have found a more engaged audience who can better appreciate the efforts of collaboration.
Devised work requires many tweaks and edits, but since NUS Theatre Studies is not a conservatory programme, this reviewer is not sure how much time they had to prepare. Clearly, not enough.
This piece shuts you off quickly and ends up being a jack of all trades, but master of none. When mood and style are prioritized over theme and content, it is sure to bring doom and make fools of those who have put in the hours and discipline to stage it.
That the marketing of this piece is limited within the environment of the university, and that the audience comprises academia, a few theatre practitioners, peers, and family, promise a safe haven for the next generation of theatre-makers to take their first steps.
But despite the repeated refrain from The Wizard of Oz, there is clearly no “over the rainbow” feeling after watching this performance: only a desire to have spent 75 intermission-less minutes doing something else.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
PETTY PEOPLE by NUS Theatre Studies Class of 2017
29 – 31 March 2017
Yale-NUS 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.