“Do not go gentle into that good night…”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 23 March 2017
Loo Zihan’s With/Out made its debut in 2015 at Centre 42 as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. And now, it’s back as part of The Esplanade’s The Studios festival with a bigger budget and added collaboration from seasoned stage and screen performer, Janice Koh.
The work is a reimagining of Completely With/Out Character, a docu-theatre monologue performed and devised by Paddy Chew – the first AIDS patient in Singapore to publicly declare his disease – 18 years ago, with Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan from The Necessary Stage. With/Out is an evocative piece, albeit not in the traditional form of sitting down and getting comfortable in your theatre seat. Nay, this meticulous homage to all things Paddy is best felt by exploring the space, so one can view multiple perspectives of the piece and participate through active engagement. The audience clearly becomes an element of the performance.
With headphones a necessity throughout the piece, audiences can choose to follow one of three channels – be it Chew’s original performance that’s telecast on the screen, the version enacted live by Koh, or both versions at the same time. This multi-media performance installation piece engages not only the community of audience members in-house, but also online, as live streaming is conducted at each performance.
Koh is an extremely focused and dedicated performer, and it is nice to see her challenge herself. To perform the piece without the histrionics and gestures that Chew provided so effectively in his, Koh’s performance is technically polished, and emotionally restrained. She manoeuvres the space effortlessly, and guides the audience members (who inhabit her space) assuredly.
Truly time feels wrinkled, as you see both versions of the monologue unfold. Whilst it feels like a jigsaw puzzle you have to piece together, certain fragmented moments (such the memorial scene, where audience members are invited to light a candle) are powerful.
With/Out has been a labour of love for Loo, Koh, and the rest of the creative team, and they’ve clearly invested a lot of heart and time in archiving, researching, conceptualizing and making it accessible and relevant. It is heartening to know that the quality of life for HIV positive patients in Singapore has improved since Chew shed his clothes and gave AIDS a face.
However, the alienation and isolation remains.
What the documentation of this piece will say about our community’s view on AIDS in the next 18 years is anybody’s guess. But one thing is for sure: Chew’s monologue on his life – warts and all – is his legacy, and will endure for generations to come.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
WITH/OUT by Loo Zihan
23 – 26 March 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christian is a C42 Boiler Room 2016 playwright, and enjoys being an audience member to different mediums of the arts. He finds arts invigorating to the soul, and truly believes that the vibrant arts scene has come a long way from its humble beginnings.