Reviewer: Gloria Ho
Performance: 23 January 2015
The intimate black box space is still filled with audience chatter as Sharda Harrison and Bani Haykal stroll in. The audience hushes as it ‘eavesdrops’ on their casual conversation – a chat between an actor waiting to perform as a cow and a sound designer. If you are expecting an easy and light-hearted 70 minutes, you will be in for a rude shock.
Charged with a flurry of powerful, raw emotions and a patchwork of myths and narratives within vague contexts, you either stay alert and keep swift pace with the morphing mental landscapes or you fall defeated and leave the theatre utterly confused.
Untitled Women is a double-bill selection of The Necessary Stage’s early works – untitled cow number one (2000) and untitled women number one (2001). In sync with this year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival’s theme of art and loss, these two plays explore our experience of loss and its various manifestations.
As the stage lights signal the start of untitled cow, my attention was first drawn to the stark difference in costumes – Haykal’s black Teater Ekamatra tee shirt and gray pants in contrast to the striking, red one-piece with intricate patterns worn by Harrison. It suggests how people grappling with loss often mark themselves differently through an outward display of grief. Harrison’s intense and strong psycho-physical performance builds on to this notion. On the other extreme, others respond to grief with a muted disposition as evidenced when Haykal prepares a bowl of water for the ritual while sporadically and passively looking on at the vessel of torment.
I was, however, unable follow the emotional journey and transformation of the cow’s 12 days of mourning. It seemed to me like a non-stop display of anguish and self-reproach which lead to its collapse from ‘exhaustion’ at the end. I had hoped for more subtleties and distinguishing between the different mourning phases.
In untitled women, Edith Podesta and Ethel Yap take on multiple roles – their versatility in shifting and establishing the different dynamics between the characters in each short narrative is to be applauded. While it is left to the audience to constantly construct a context for each vignette, it is not difficult for the audience to connect characters to their respective moments. Podesta successfully draws laughter from the audience thus breaking the heavy atmosphere with her sometimes outlandish switch between costumes and characterization.
The set is a wonderful illustrative complement to the unfolding sense of loss. Comprising 5 ramps, it visually depicts how loss throws us off balance – where it is easier to slide down the spiral of grief than to climb up and rise above the pain.
If connection leads to loss and grief, could the loss of connection also be a gain?
While people may choose to disconnect in times of loss, I feel that it is loss that connects us humans in a way which words do not.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
UNTITLED WOMEN by The Necessary Stage
23-25 January 2015
Drama Centre Black Box
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Gloria Ho is a fresh graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the National University of Singapore. She is an avid theatre-goer ever since she was introduced to the local theatre scene through her minor in Theatre Studies.