Reviewer: Casidhe Ng
Performance: 4 August 2017
“The darker your skin is, the uglier you are” echoes throughout the space only a few minutes into Without Reason, a statement that is as bold as it is incisive and startling. It is uttered by Vanessa (Jelaine Ng) in response to a question regarding dating someone of a different race. This dilemma becomes the fundamental premise of the show as we see budding couple Wei Yi (Cheryl Tan) and Hazmy (Hafidz Abdul Rahman) navigate the social stigma, familial expectations and deep-rooted stereotypes dating someone of a different race brings. On top of that, Hwa Chong-groomed Wei Yi is to study in Cambridge in a year’s time, which adds further complications to the mix.
We jump back and forth in time, from mid-July to February, in due process seeing how their relationship evolves. Six environments, each indicating spaces Wei Yi and Hazmy inhabit, occupy the stage and facilitate the fragmentary nature of the story well. In one scene, the couple is faced with breaking the truth to their parents individually (Hazmy to his father, Wei Yi to her mum). The scene offers a comparison of different domestic worlds, due in no small part to the wonderful performances by Noor Effendy Ibrahim as Arif, and Tan Wan Sze as Siew Ying, a typical Chinese tiger mum. Domestic scenes where Hazmy and Wei Yi discuss these choices with their conservative parents work more because of the actors than the writing. Here is an example where the script seems to hinder the work.
The play appears to lose momentum after its second act, becoming repetitive as it belabors the points against Wei Yi and Hazmy’s relationship. Other subplots (such as one involving Hazmy’s wayward brother) aren’t sufficiently fleshed-out, making their scenes feel little more than shouting matches to the audience. The heavy-handed script, which litters lines like “there will always be pork in her blood” and “you know how [Malays] are, they work three days and rest four days” call to attention pertinent stereotypes and prejudices but on occasion detract from the believability of characters. In a scene detailing how Hamzy and Wei Yi met, Wei Yi exclaims, “you guys have such a rich culture!” and “I’ve been to Kampong Glam and Arab Street”: these seem surprisingly unexpected for the scene in question. Nevertheless, it does raise issues of overt and covert xenophobia and racism; and how these under/overtones influence our perspectives and behavior.
Cheryl Tan and Hafidz Abdul Rahman helm the show with wonderful chemistry and intimate moments that encourages the audience to root for their tumultuous romance. Special mention must also go to Dalifah Shahril who embodies the witty and loving Malay mother with exceptional ease while providing the occasional comic relief.
As a whole, Without Reason is hard to fault for the myriad of themes it addresses, even if it may have bitten more than it can chew. There are excellent moments of comedy amidst the heavy-handed messages, and the weak script is rightly compensated by the commendable performances all round. Most importantly, it captures a quintessentially millennial situation: no other generation seems better equipped to do away with the limitations of tradition. As National Day approaches once more, it’s perhaps uplifting to know that by staging works like Without Reason, the coming generation will hopefully be one that requests halal food for a party of “100 Chinese and 1 Malay”.
Do you have an opinion or comment about this post? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
WITHOUT REASON by Sim Yan Ying
2 – 4 August 2017
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Casidhe Ng is currently serving the nation but takes time out of his civilian hours for theatre.