TURN BY TURN WE TURN by The Finger Players

“The Puppets of the Puppets”

Reviewer: Gan Soon Rui
Performance: 3 October 2014, 8pm

It is the 1920s. The last emperor of China has recently abdicated. Change is sweeping across China as a passionate young boy takes over the reins of his father’s puppet troupe.

Produced as part of The Finger Players’ anniversary for their 15th season, Turn By Turn We Turn is a restaging of the 2011 production.  This production won the 12th Life! Theatre Awards for Production of the Year and Best Director in 2012.

And it shows.

Written by Director, Playwright and Visual Designer, Chong Tze Chien, and performed entirely in Mandarin with English surtitles, Turn By Turn We Turn charts the riveting tale of master puppeteer, Bo Yuan (Ong Kian Sin reprises the role). As the simple, yet skilful master of the troupe, he tries his best to negotiate the ever-changing political landscapes of China through the 1900s with his troupe.

The performance began with a thought-provoking message: “Master said in our world, there are two levels: one that is above us, where gods and deities, heroes and emperors roam. The other is the level below, where we are. All that the audience pays and wants to see is right above our heads. They are not interested in what goes on below.”

The conspicuously bare stage allows the audience to enjoy the performance on these two levels, as the puppeteers themselves also double as performers on stage. The choreography of the puppets and the performance of the actors are, for lack of a better word, brilliant. The performers’ control over the puppets is detailed and intricate, creating a visual spectacle that parallels the well-oiled clockwork movements of the actors controlling them.

As a whole, audiences might see Turn By Turn We Turn as a representation of the sacrifices that artists make in the pursuit of perfection in their craft. Bo Yuan’s struggles to stay true to his craft in the midst of political unrest are a testament to that idea.

Or one may also infer Turn By Turn We Turn as a poignant reflection on the forceful injection of politics into theatre – should the troupe continue to stay true to their beliefs? Or do they themselves, puppeteers by craft, turn by turn become puppets to be manipulated?

After all, it’s only through the puppeteer’s hands that the puppets come to life.


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TURN BY TURN WE TURN by The Finger Players
2- 12 October 2014
Drama Centre Black Box


Gan Soon Rui considers himself a picky kind of theatre goer, opting for productions with decent reviews, but admits he is also a total sucker for musicals and comedies.