“Hitting All The Right Notes“
Reviewer: Cordelia Lee
Performance: 4 August 2017
In the first five minutes, The Theatre Practice’s Mandarin family musical, The wee Question Mark and the Nameless, channels the vibe of a typical cringe-worthy mall performance for children. The stage is an explosion of colours – bright lights, silk drapes, streamers, and 2D cut-outs. With amplified voices and bodies pulsating with adrenaline, the three-member cast break the fourth wall, eagerly beckoning their largely underaged audience to join them in singing a fictional national anthem.
As shrill screams emerge from children competing to be heard, I wrestle with the urge to get up and leave.
But as they quieten down and the musical proceeds, a certain flair in execution emerges.
This is not your average children’s act.
The cast sustains its tireless energy for the full hour, flashing exuberant smiles and offering comedic quick-fire dialogues. This is unsurprising considering their target audience is known to have a short attention span. What’s exceptional however, is the precision in which lines are delivered. Though animated, the cast is careful not to lose themselves in their vivacity, or let it consume the intention behind their words. Questions are posed simply and genuinely to the audience as though unscripted.
In one instance, the cast falls into a disagreement regarding what an elephant looks like. Exasperated, the actors consult their young audience. Speaking sincerely to them instead speaking at them – as some adults tend to do – they consistently treat their young audience as respected equals. Such authentic audience interactions leave the children feeling valued as a vital part of the performance.
What’s more, Huang Suhuai’s script goes beyond entertainment. If you’re expecting a simplistic plotline with a neat moral of the story delivered to you at the end – well think again.
The musical is used as a tool to expose children to “unanswerable questions” that consume the minds of adults. As the cast attempt to name a nameless old man they’ve each met before, questions on identity and individuality arise. In a parallel narrative, the blindfolded actors depend on their sense of touch to visualise an elephant before failing to come to a consensus. Dependence on errant partial knowledge to define things and draw conclusions become problematic. Who’s right?
At key moments, the flow of the plot is temporarily arrested, and the cast delves into song while physically executing a precise choreography. The lyrical content closely follows the theme of the musical, reinforcing the probe on identity as well as the importance of openness to differing perspectives when seeking answers. Despite being a short family musical, immense care is invested into planning each song and ensuring that the musical score forms the “backbone” of the script’s content. They are well integrated into the story, giving the audience insight into the narrative while aiding in plot progression.
As the catchy melody, thoughtful lyrics, and apt choreography all meld together, an intricately detailed performance score is conceived on stage. My inner child is thoroughly entertained, while my adult reviewer self is impressed by the level of skill and dedication present. It can be safely said that this humble family musical is easily one of the better local musicals staged this year.
Do not dismiss children’s acts, for the youngest audiences are often the hardest to entertain. Moreover, if unimpressed, they won’t hesitate to show their disdain. But as the child audience enthusiastically cheer the cast on at the end, it becomes clear that they’ve been won over by the performance.
And despite being an adult outlier among them, so have I.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The Wee Question Mark and the Nameless by The Theatre Practice
3 – 13 August 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cordelia is a second-year Theatre Studies and English Linguistics double major. She views the theatre as a liminal space providing far more than simply entertainment, and she especially appreciates avant-garde performances.