Friday, May 21, 2010

> theatre
Y O’Clock
Drama Centre Black Box
Thursday, May 20, 2010

The sheer inventiveness of Y O’Clock is enough to blow you away. The show presents audiences with a bewildering succession of ingenious handmade props: a tightrope, a smoke cannon in a cardboard box, a cloud made of edible marshmallow.

Japanese theatre group faifai thrusts us back into the imaginative world of childhood, engulfing us in an environment of constant play. Characters are portrayed as dolls, with actors manipulating their limbs and voices, surrounded by sets and costumes as colourful as a box of crayons.

Audiences, too, are invited to play. Before we even enter the theatre, we are given paper planes and are invited to draw on disposable plates, which will reappear later in the show, transformed into flowers.

Surprisingly, the plot isn’t truly gripping. The tale focuses on Potato, a part-time teacher at a daycare centre, played by Koji Yamazaki. He bonds with one of his charges, an eight year-old boy named Youji, and is highly disturbed when the child suddenly leaves the school to return to his orphanage.

The story is drawn from the real-life experiences of director Chiharu Shinoda, who formerly worked in a daycare centre. Its very ordinariness is to its credit: it’s a thoroughly believable story of adult alienation, taking place in a sea of childlike fantasy.

And of course, we love the fantasy. My favourite scenes are the dream sequences: actors slip into costumes to play giant mermaids, Egyptian mummies and King Kong gorrillas, terrorizing the world of the dolls.

But real life also becomes marvelously mutated in this show. At Potato’s class reunion, performer/designer Shiro Amano appears in business attire, controlling two life-size marionettes, forming a trio of identical yuppie salarymen. On another occasion, Yamazaki strips his clothes to reveal a crowd of felt tip faces drawn across his body: an array of characters to depict the chaos of a party.

And even the simplest of concepts is portrayed in the zaniest way possible. To show she needs to pee, actress Mai Nakabayashi balances a beaker on her head, while another actor fills it with a watering can.

Yet this show isn’t all bells and whistles. As a finale, the cast clears the stage in seconds, leaving a blank space where Potato encounters an adult Youji, and, with difficulty, he accepts the inevitable changes that life entails.

The two then begin a gymnastic dance, half-desperate and half-joyous. This becomes the thesis of the play: that as adults, we must not live in regret, but must celebrate the sensation of the present. This, regardless of the fact that the glorious playthings of childhood have vanished, never to return.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Re: the Singapore Arts Festival Blog

I've just blasted the National Arts Council Festivals Department on my blog for refusing to give the Flying Inkpot the tickets they asked for. Less than a week before the Festival began, they only agreed to supply 8 out of 13 tickets requested. No other theatre company has ever treated us so shabbily.

Read about it here.

But here's a little something extra: I'm feeling a little guilty about the whole situation. Why?

Reason #1. My own ticket allocation is not affected. This is because I pulled out of doing my reviews for the Flying Inkpot at the last minute. Why? Because the plays I'd decided to cover were "Cargo" and "Football, Football", and the Straits Times had later approached me to review these same plays.

I felt bad about cancelling these ticket requests with Inkpot and the Festivals Department, but they were pretty cool with it in the end. We've done this kind of thing before. In the end, it's the same person reviewing, but for a different company. Kenneth and Matthew volunteered to take over my review commitments.

Reason #2. I was told when I set up the Festival blog that me and my team of four or five could have "some" tickets. I went and assembled a team of about 20, so we could cover all the shows, and receive comps to them, too. And all our comp requests were approved.

The thing is, we're not going to be doing in-depth, incisive, Inkpot-standard reviews of the shows we're watching. That wasn't part of the agreement. The idea was just to write "something".

Some of us, like Rui An, will probably write really analytical reviews, but most of us will post a more personal response. And that's if we're lucky - so far, most of the rest of the team hasn't blogged much at all.

So I'm feeling a wee bit responsible for this mess. The least I can do is decry it and confess it.

Yurg. It also feels silly to go on about this when the Yong Vui Kong verdict is coming up on Friday. Also PinkDot on Saturday. I'll be there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Singapore Arts Festival Blog!

I'm doing the official independent blog for the Singapore Arts Festival 2010! Check it out here:

The official independent bit means that the department at NAC asked me to do it and is giving us complimentary tickets, but will have no control over what we say over there, though Kee Hong says he'll drop me a mail if there's a factual inaccuracy.

So far he hasn't contradicted my postulations that the guys who cut back on W!ld Rice and TheatreWorks funding are idiots, and that the marketing materials are weird and scary, so you know, I'm assuming that's factually true. :)

Other people who've agreed to blog include fellow Inkpot reviewer Ho Rui An, classical music reviewer Dr Chang Tou Liang, playwrights Irfan Kasban, Bryan Tan and Faith Ng, choreographer Kiran Kumar, poet Pooja Nansi, christ, who else, theatre researcher Ken Takiguchi, music writer Jeremy Yew, art writer Wong May Yee, arts worker Ephraim Loy, writer Richard Lord... y'know, I'm going to get their titles mixed up soon so let's just assume they're all cool interesting intelligent people who've got something worth saying.

Ooh, and if you feel like doing a guest post, write to me and let's do it!