Q: PROTAGONISTS AT THE EDGE by Intercultural Theatre Institute

“The theatre is an encounter”

Reviewer: Beverly Yuen
Performance: 30 May 2015

Theatre master Grotowski once said, “The core of the theatre is an encounter”. In Q: Protagonists at the Edge, Ang Gey Pin, a director-actress who is trained in the Grotowskian tradition of theatre making, allows everyone in the space to encounter both the living and non-living elements; reality and imagination; past and present; theatre-doing and theatre-viewing in the space known as a rehearsal studio in the play. She explains the play as a process that is ongoing and changing in the rehearsal room where creativity and confrontations occur.   In preparing the audience for such an “encounter”, Ang and her performers interact and play games with the audience before the start of the “performance”.

Three plays – The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree and The Eagle and the Cat by Kuo Pao Kun and Three Families Blessings by Lim Jen Erh — serve as a bridge to connect the responses of performers and audience to these works. The actors reveal that they are told “to be themselves” and yet playing the characters at the same time. And that is the mantra that ties the three plays together. While the three are playing different characters, their cultural identities and traditions surface through their different languages (Malay, Mandarin, English, Hokkien, Singlish) and individual styles in delivering songs, music and movements. And as “themselves”, they move out of characters and question the scripts and rehearsal process. The transitions of the performers moving in and out of their characters during rehearsal are seamlessly presented, with clever use of lighting by Josiah Yoong in depicting the “now” and the “rehearsal”. The three scripts intertwined with interposing questions, conversations and play between creators, as well as between creators and audience. Throughout the piece, the audience members are confronted with questions regarding issues of arts, living and history, through the engagement of all the five senses. In addition to visual images and audio presented, we are served with water, steaming sweet potatoes and asked to make an origami.

The ensemble of three sustains the almost two hour play/rehearsal with immense energy and synergy. Their voice work and play with musical instruments evoke a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from joy, frustrations and self-amusement. Al-Matin Yatim supports the piece with his chant-like vocal and is convincing as the old tree as he sings and narrates with the voice of an aged which resonates in the space; Yazid Jalil illuminates the space with his agile and poised movements cumulated with playfulness and gaiety; Chang Ting Wei is meticulous in executing every action of hers, as if weaving an artwork from threads.

The creative team seems to be reminiscing about the past, paying tribute to those who continue to touch and inspire generations through the arts, and commenting on what is lost in the process of modernization. The set and seats neatly arranged for the audience are made of cardboard and papers, and they create a raw, primitive and yet organized feel, which seem to suggest that this is the state of arts in Singapore — there is so much energy gushing in the underlying currents in a highly structured society. The music and sound effects designed by Nickolai D. Nickolov produce diverse emotional landscapes from nostalgia to tension to despair. Ironically, while the piece also questions about the exploitation of trees in modern industrialized life in the segments of The Silly Little Girl and the Funny Old Tree, papers are heavily used in the construction of the set and props. The audience beside me exclaimed, “Why are we wasting so much paper here, while the play is talking about saving trees?” Perhaps the creators want us to experience the absurdity of our lives through the ironical position that we are placed in.


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Q: PROTAGONISTS AT THE EDGE by Intercultural Theatre Institute
27 – 30 May 2015,
Esplanade Rehearsal Studio


Beverly Yuen is an arts practitioner, and co-/founder of Theatre OX and In Source Theatre. She keeps a blog at beverly-films-events.blogspot.sg.