Tuesday, June 17, 2008

small metal objects

For some reason, the copy editors at ST felt it wasn't worth mentioning that Kinda Hot was banned when it was first performed. Well, let's remind people.

(Not sure if this is my best review, though.)

Back to Back Theatre
VivoCity Sentosa Concourse Level 3
Ng Yi-Sheng

In the middle of VivoCity, four actors are staging a strange, compelling drama. Two men, Gary and Steve, have been contacted by a high-profile executive named Allan. They’ve agreed to sell him drugs for a big business party tonight, but Steve has experienced a breakdown and won’t move from the spot.

The plot of “small metal objects” is as simple as that, but the way Back to Back Theatre tells the story brings it to a whole new level. Hidden in the crowds, the actors are barely visible to the audience, who’re seated at a distance. They’re only audible to us because their voices are transmitted electronically to our headphones.

While stage characters usually appear larger than life, Gary, Steve and Allan look tiny to us, an oddly believable part of the human landscape that surrounds them. They’re visually obstructed by lines of tourists exiting the Sentosa train station, upstaged by mischievous children playing in the foreground. We almost believe we’re eavesdropping on a real transaction, one of the numerous everyday dramas that occur in our midst.

Productions comparable to this have been staged in the past. Spell #7, for example, created a performance tour of Little India in 2002 entitled “Kinda Hot”, though this was banned by the police due to concerns about “mingling”.

However, Back to Back Theatre has added a deeper layer to this show by recruiting intellectually disabled actors to devise and perform the two main characters. It’s never explicitly stated whether Gary and Steve have disabilities, but their hesitant, muted style of acting is disconcertingly different from what we’re used to.

Simon Laherty’s performance as Steve is particularly unsettling. Slack-jawed and wide-eyed, he stares blankly at the audience through most of the play as if idiotically terrified. But when Allan – and later, his psychologist colleague Carolyn – attempt to bribe him, first with money, then with offers of emotional and sexual favours, he resists with such insistence that he becomes our hero.

For all their money, power and intelligence, Allan and Carolyn are helpless when this man says no. Gary sticks by him, despite the knowledge that he’ll lose money for his devotion. It’s a slap in the face of the capitalist world of the mall, a reminder that some people can’t be bought.

The universe of “small metal objects” is so intimate, so embedded in the private interior worlds of other people that it makes us uncomfortable. Good theatre ought to achieve that.

No comments: