Monday, July 29, 2013

The Beauty of Melancholy ... My review of "Melancholy Play" presented by Couch Theatre

To start off, let me ask you this question … who do you find more attractive and fall in love with :

·         Someone who sighs wistfully, looks out of the window, has a facial expression like a forlorn puppy, always seems to vulnerable and just on the edge of depression … or

·         Someone who is running around screaming in joy, growing happier daily, perpetually grinning and singing and humming a merry tune and just on the edge of insanity …

For me, I would prefer the former. Why? I guess I want to provide for the person and care for the person and seem like I am “protecting” the person. What more can I do for a really happy person?

This is what I got from watching “Melancholy Play” by Sarah Ruhl. I caught this on Friday evening at the Drama Centre BlackBox at the National Library. This play was presented by Couch Theatre. The theme of the play is the feeling of “Melancholia” and how someone who is melancholy can have such an effect on others feelings and emotions. When the melancholia goes away .. the feelings change. The play also showed me the beauty of being melancholy and why it isn’t such a bad thing after all.

I have never read this play, or neither did I do any deep research into it prior to attending the play / writing my preview several weeks ago. All I knew was that this play was about “Being Melancholy” and something about an “almond.” But I got so much deeper meaning from watching the play. I guess this was only because the direction and the cast was excellent.

It is extremely refreshing and joyous to see a cast of actors and actresses whom I have never seen before. This is because then everything starts from a clean slate .. no expectations, no “previous” roles kind of baggage in my mind. Couch Theatre was formed by a group of students .. young ‘tweenagers’ who have a strong passion for the theatres. I has the chance to speak to the director and the production manager after the show and I was very impressed by the aims and aspirations of Couch Theatre. Currently, they are planning 2 productions a year with an aim of 4 yearly in the future. They also want to move away from the mainstream ha-ha-ha kind of play (which I personally think we have too much of) and more into something more engaging and thoughtful. I truly support their aims !!!

The acting was above par. Considering that the main cast of 6 persons have never had any prior professional training, their acting is above par to that of some of the so-called “professional actors” here in Singapore. The one person who stood out for me was Ms Cheryl Foo who played the main role of “Tilly.” The transition between the mournful melancholy Tilly to the slightly crazed, wild-eyed Tilly was seamless and looked effortless on her part. Her facial expressions were spot on.. delivery of her lines were clear and timing was excellent. Cheryl had a very polished and confident performance with a strong stage presence.  Cheryl will go far if she wishes to continue in theatre. I can see her being the new Emma Yong (just needs to improve her singing)… and I say that honestly !!! I haven’t seen such a bright and great talent since I saw Erwin Shah.

The acting of the two main male roles played by Ziyad and Shien Hian were of a high standard. Again they were confident actors, had good poise, spoke strong and well (though for Shien Hian, sometimes the accent resulted in words being mumbled), had the right expressions and most important did not ‘overact.’ My pet peeve is with actors and actresses who overact. A good actor / actress acts with just the right amount of emotion in their poise, stance, tone and expression.

For the remaining two female roles, Rei-En and Selene did a good job. However, their roles were too small to make a very long lasting impression as compared to the role of Tilly. Also their roles were rather one-dimensional so I am unable to see the depth in their acting.

If I had anything to complain about, it would be for two small things. Firstly, the singing. It is quite clear that none of the cast (except for Adrian, the cellist) had much or any singing background. The singing was not exactly well blended amongst the 5 voices and the cello. It was rather jarring at certain points. However, I thought this somehow fitted into this “melancholy” theme. When we are happy, we hear music with happy, strong melodies of a Major chord. When we are sad and down, we tend to enjoy music which is more of the disjointed and of a Minor chord. Next is the follow-on spotlighting. But there were a few times when I felt that the spot lighting was not spot-on (pun intended). I know this is a very small issue but it does have an effect on the overall performance.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself at “Melancholy Play,” and I would really like to thank Jasmine for the invite and the great seat. The Drama Centre BlackBox is a great venue because it gives a very intimate and cosy feeling to the audience. It also gives the chance for the audience to view the cast close-up. I was seated between family of one of the cast members. I spoke to the father and was glad to hear that he encouraged and supported his daughter to do this. The whole family seemed to be enjoying themselves and must have been very proud to see their daughter in action (I am not sure if it was Cheryl, Rei-En or Selene). These days parents are too busy telling their children that they should be a professional so that can earn lots of money blah blah blah. Again I hope to see more of Couch Theatre’s future productions and I wish them all the best on fulfilling their aims and aspirations. If their future productions are going to be like this production of “Melancholy Play,” I will proudly be a supporter. Keep up the hard work !!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Could have been better .. Review of Phantom of the Opera (Singapore 2013)

I watched Phantom of the Opera in Singapore on 20th July 2013 at 2pm at the Marina Bay Sands Mastercard Theatre. This musical first debuted in 1986 and is still showing in London. It has been viewed by at least 150 million people all over the world.

I know of many people who have seen Phantom of the Opera several times, either on Broadway or in London’s West End or in the countless of re-productions in Australia, Singapore, Japan and many other countries in the world. Countless of people have also bought and listened to the CD recordings of this musical by the original cast of Michael Crawford (Phantom), Sarah Brightman (Christine) and Steve Barton (Raoul). I for one have seen Phantom of the Opera in London (not the original cast) in 2002 and more than 10 years later .. I watched it again in Singapore.

Somehow, I wasn’t as overwhelmed by the recent viewing as compared to watching it the first time. Why? Firstly, I felt that the singing was not as good. There were many parts where I could hardly hear the singing (this may be due to the bad acoustics at the MBS Theatre) … but there were parts where I could hear .. but the words were either being mumbled or just mashed up with the orchestra. I have listened to the original cast CD ( fact I own two copies) .. many times since I got it in 1986 as a present from my sister. I know it is unfair to compare the CD to the performance as the CD may be a studio recording as compared to a live performance. However, I can’t help but feel that the singing can be better .. clearer and brighter. The acting was good by the 3 leading cast members (Phantom, Christine and Raoul). The supporting cast members did their part well but yet again when it was time to sing, I found it quite lacking. Again it is rather unfair as the singing I am accustomed to is off the Phantom CD.

The stage / backdrops and effects were very good though I wished the chandelier could have come crashing a lot faster.

As Phantom of the Opera is a musical, the orchestra plays a very big part of the entire production. The orchestra was not too bad except for some parts where I felt that the tempo was going “Allegro” rather than “Adagio.” This was highly apparent during their performance of “All I Ask of You.” Again this is when compared to what I am more familiar with.

Overall, it was a satisfactory performance but to be brutally honest, not a ‘standing ovation’ kind of performance. For first-timers to Phantom of the Opera, this production would be a good one … but for Phantom of the Opera “veterans,” the differences are too wide to go unnoticed.

Milestone reached ... 10,000 views !!! Thanks guys !!!

10,000 views !!!! Wow wow wow … I cannot believe that my blog will actually hit 10,000 views since my first post on 5th December 2011. Thank you all for reading my reviews and previews. I shall strive to work harder on this blog. My next milestone … 20,000 views !!! J

Monday, July 15, 2013

Please Tie Me Up !! My review of Michael Chiang's High Class.

Review of Michael Chiang’s High Class by The Presenting Company

I was rather disappointed with “High Class.” Why? I had bought a pair of Stall Tickets but then just before the show, there were some Circle Ticket holders being upgraded to Stall seats. I guess the matinee show … second last day of the run … tickets were not selling well. But then … grr … never ever happened to any other shows I have been to .. matinee or not .. even on last day !!! (Just a small irritation). What irked me more was that maybe I was unlucky to attend the show when they were two alternates. Both Elizabeth Lazan and Siti Khalijah were replaced. All through my blog you can see how much I like Siti’s acting .. and she was one of the main reasons I bought tix to High Class .. but little did I know … strike Toto also not so lucky. I think they should put up on the Sistic website when the members of the cast are going to be not acting then the audience will buy tickets on the dates accordingly. All these left a bad taste in my mouth as the show started.

Now .. onto the show. It was a single set show … with the ingenious use of a rotating “stage” on the stage. This “stage” was used as a bedroom, “stage” and also a seating area in Sentosa Cove. The storyline to High Class is a very simple one .. 5 girls wrongly selected to be groomed to be Tai-tais in a new reality TV show. The show is to be hosted by an obscenely rich former Tai-tai. The show was sabotaged by her ex and new lover .. which goes all wrong and bites the new lover … ex realises .. dumps new lover .. suddenly many suitors turn up for the Tai-tai. What about the 5 contestants? They all decide which millionaire they want to marry after being groomed. Anyone expecting a twist to the end or more depth would be disappointed. I feel that this play is more suited for an audience seeking to enjoy 2 hours of slapstick laughter. The jokes were mainly based on the “actions” and “accents” of the 5 contestants rather than witty lines. The first half of the show was pretty slow and thin .. the second half of the show was slightly better.

To me, there were two things which kept the show above water. Firstly was Nikki Muller .. 2nd was the music.  High Class had a cast of more than 10 members. The 5 contestants were just average with Audrey Luo providing some laughs as Ye Feng. I have seen Mina Kaye do better in other shows and Serene Ho was just downright over-acting ! As for Gloria Tan who played the role of Azizah, she was trying so hard to be Siti Khalijah. I could just picture Siti fitting into the role so naturally and I bet the lines and acting were based on Siti’s strengths.  Sorry Gloria, no offence but there is only ONE Siti Khalijah. I can also assume that Elizabeth would have been a better fit for the role of Sunita. As for all the other cast members, they were there, did their stuff but nothing really memorable. Nikki Muller … this is the first time she has gone on stage.. but SHE WAS GOOD. Her stage presence was strong and her singing, wonderful. Her acting and singing really blew everyone else out of the water. Not only was she head and shoulders over the others (literally .. she is tall!!) but the others were not even on the same planet !!! You could really picture her as this ex-tai tai .. with her poise and elegance. When she sang, it was with heartfelt emotions and confidence. She looked like she had been doing this for years !!

The music for High Class was arranged and composed by Mr Don Richmond (who so happens to be my ex-classmate in SJI). The tunes were catchy and fitting. The ‘tai tai me up’ song is still playing in my head and the ‘end of school’ number was rather Grease-esque.

As High Class’s run ended yesterday, this review will not serve much but solely MY opinion of the show.  High Class, to me is not a show I will watch more than once (unless I want to see Nikki Muller again) … I was honestly quite tempted to leave halfway … but then thankfully, I stayed on … it was enjoyable (towards the end) and quite ok. I guess my earlier grouses (see first paragraph) kinda tainted my experience. But isn’t that theatre … a culmination of all the senses into a wonderful experience? Sorry not here …

Monday, July 8, 2013

Do we HAVE a National Costume? ... my review on Wild R!ce's Cook a Pot Of Curry (Gala Nite!!)

Photo credits to Wild R!ce
Poignant, funny, thought provoking, melancholy, real, crude, melodic, serious, patriotic, sad, daring, REALity … these are some of the words which pop up in my mind when I am trying to describe Wild Rice’s “Cook a Pot of Curry (CPC).” It is all those and more wrapped up in many, many small little segments on a simple but effective stage. In CPC the focus was on the message … and not the petty distractions. The message was clear .. the acting was good ... the words used .. excellent. I must really comment Alfian Sa’at for his literary genius which gave us CPC. It is so real and yet he puts it across so clearly but yet hits you hard. He is able to think beyond the layers and show us the truth. As each segment ended, I found myself nodding in agreement to the message and how we must do something .. or understand ourselves better.

I caught CPC on Saturday night. Thanks to H for the wonderful tickets on Gala Opening Nite.  The guests were required to dress in “National Costume” … hardly anyone did !! When I got into the auditorium, I was facing this 3D-esque stage with cubes and lit only in white.  The play started out with the re-enactment of the scene between the Chinese and the Indian couple about the now notorious Pot of Curry !! .. after that the action came thick and fast … segment after segment. Each segment was couple of minutes long, having someone talk about the biggest issue which we face in Singapore today – new migrants / PRs . There were people from both sides of the divide in terms of nationality and social class. PRs, new citizens, Indonesians, domestic workers, taxi drivers (the best segment), yoga instructor, actress, Indians, Malays and more all had their few minutes. All acted out by the 6 actors and actresses.

Photo credits to Wild R!ce

The acting was good. The actors generally played their roles well … considering that each actor had many varied roles to play – varied Nationalities, race and profession. However, the one actor that stood out for me was Najib Soiman. I felt that he had that added oomph in his acting and he delivered his lines with conviction – like he believed in them. But maybe it was just that I could connect better with his segments.  However some of the accents were a bit lacking, especially the Phillipino one. It was not exactly there. Also, the facial expressions were also not very strong at certain segments. I am just nit-picking but I feel that the actors must really show that they belief in their message.

Directing was by Glen Goei so we know what to expect. Like I mentioned earlier, the key was the message. Glen made use of the simple set and just played with lighting to maintain the audience’s focus on the actors. Effective use of slides gave the stage some color and broke the monotony. I think the timing of the lighting and slide transitions were excellent.

Overall, Cook a Pot of Curry is a great way to kickstart the Alfian Sa’at “festival” as it shows the how brilliant this man is. CPC is a must see for all. Do not expect a typical play by Wild Rice. It has no real storyline where there is a plot with ups and downs followed by a happy ending. Do not expect tons of wild laughter … as this is no story .. this is reality!! We have always been fooled by the ‘story’ … read to us many, many times in school and through campaigns and policies … when are we going to realise that we must challenge the ‘story’. Let Cook a Pot of Curry touch your patriotic soul as it has for me .. when the laughter has ended .. we have to face reality.  Majulah Singapura.