“This Chord and Others”
Reviewer: Casidhe Ng
Performance: 31 March 2017
Last performed in 2000, Haresh Sharma’s comedy This Chord and Others returns to the stage with this latest iteration helmed by Timothy Nga. The main narrative concerns three best friends – Thomas, Sukdev and Gerald – and how their relationships eventually change as a possible promotion comes between them, prompting them to reveal their fears, biases and prejudices about their race, religion and identities.
As the house lights go down, we are fed news reports of events and occurrences in the late 1990s via a row of small, organized analog TVs that act as the primary set: footage of the unveiling of the Hubble telescope, Kuwaiti oil fires, Chernobyl disaster and the SQ006 accident propel us into a Singapore just past the turn-of-the-century, encapsulating the struggle between tradition and modernity.
From then on, the highlight of this particular restaging is without a doubt the performances. Thomas Pang offers the strongest portrayal as Thomas, but Neo Hai Bin’s Gerald and Pavan J Singh’s Sukdev are delivered excellently too. As the script demands, the actors take on other characters: Singh acts as Gerald’s father, Pang as Sukdev’s mother, and Neo as Thomas’s girlfriend (giving rise to a wonderfully intimate scene between the two that certainly shocked the students in the audience). The fact that they accomplish this with little costume alterations, whilst hitting most comedic marks and retaining a palpable camaraderie, is impressive to say the least.
In equal weight as their spoken dialogues are non-verbal episodes of the characters in a caricature-like fashion, each suffering from a disability of their own. Thomas is blind and enwrapped in cloth, Sukdev is made deaf by a comically oversized turban, and Gerald’s arms are affixed in a permanent T-pose, forcing the trio to rely on each other for movement, communication and assistance. Recorded dialogues of the trio speaking is then played over these sequences, though it feels, at most, extraneous, and I wonder if the episodes might be more intriguing if simply performed in silence. In spite of that, Sharma’s poetry comes through the most in text-heavy stories narrated by the trio, with allegorical tales of resistance to choice, rules and preconceived notions, of a sun who wishes no longer to be bound to the earth, or a raindrop questioning his part in the natural cycle.
The combination of these varied elements that often demand attention on multiple sensory fronts can make the piece difficult to follow. Additionally, the fragmentary nature of the play retards momentum, leading to moments of tension never quite reaching the ideal or desired level.
The set is aesthetically impressive but it occasionally limits rather than expands on the playing space, and its projections can get quickly lost amidst the simultaneity of the stage business. Nonetheless, Tim Nga’s restaging of this play is one that accomplishes many things at once: delivering excellent performances and wonderful moments without losing the witty and seamless interrogation of Singaporean issues that has become synonymous with Sharma’s work.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
THIS CHORD AND OTHERS by Timothy Nga
30 March – 2 April 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Casidhe Ng is currently serving the nation but takes time out of his civilian hours for theatre.