Thursday, September 04, 2008

Reservoir Review (Today Weekend, 30 August 2008)

We rather like this review because it actually describes the problematics of the show's construction.

From Ng Yi-Sheng's Careerblog

A Shrining example

“A STRAIGHT line into the forest!” It’s a phrase actress Patricia Toh utters in amazement upon finding a pathway in the middle of Reservoir.

It’s also an apt analogy for this new multi-media production by TheatreWorks, as director Choy Ka Fai, playwright Ng Yi-Sheng and the rest of the team beat a straight path into uncharted historical territory like a band of merry explorers.

This collaborative piece is essentially a heartfelt ode to a forgotten monument in the heart of MacRitchie Reservoir. And not just any whitewashed statue or structure, but the rather controversial Syonan Jinja. The Shinto shrine was built to commemorate the first anniversary of the British surrender to the Japanese during World War II in 1943.

Reservoir has an autobiographical approach, literally: It tells the story of a group of people who go in search of a mysterious structure that’s been swallowed up by the jungle.

Like episodic chapters in a multi-media history book-cum-diary, it combines song and dance performances — from actor/singer Rizman Putra and Japanese dancer Norico Sunayama, respectively — Choy’s own video graphics, an evocative soundscape from Chong Li-Chuan, as well as documentary footage and audio interviews of people who’ve seen the shrine in its heyday.

It’s an inventive approach to telling a story; one that few people would even think of bringing up without getting their knickers in a bunch.

That’s because it’s a sticky topic to begin with. And because Reservoir does not dwell at length with the less-than-pleasant points of war and colonial occupation, it may get accused of handling a sensitive historical topic irresponsibly.

During the opening night’s post-show talk, for example, an audience member even made comparisons to the World War II Auschwitz concentration camp.

But that comment reveals, more than anything, certain prejudices towards such topics: for example, when you bring up the Japanese Occupation of World War II, every Japanese must have three eyes, two horns, a tail and feed on the blood of young babies.

But this reviewer was relieved that the young team behind Reservoir did not even attempt to tackle the topic in such a manner, because they found a way of making sense of a symbolic structure on their own terms, no matter how romanticised it may sometimes feel.

Unlike the black and white views of textbook history, Reservoir feels fresh. There’s a sense of wide-eyed innocence and an eagerness to explore and it’s worthwhile to follow the piece all the way to that proverbial clearing in the forest.

Reservoir ends Saturday (Aug 30), 3pm and 8pm, at 72-13Mohamed Sultan Road. Tickets at $28 from or call 6737 7213.

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