Wednesday, August 10, 2016


This structure of a play has been staged almost annually at the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival (M1 华文小剧场节). Titled《一桌二椅实验系列》, '1 Table 2 Chairs Experimental Series', The Theatre Practice (实践剧场) invites directors and artists from different cities to stage their interpretations of various themes of the relationship between traditional and contemporary arts.

The three short plays hold no dialogue, and the set is literally made up of one table, two chairs and four performers. This year, the plays focus on the traditional art of kunqu (崑曲、昆劇), and the contemporary manner of physical theatre. This year, the four artists are from Singapore/Austria- Kuo Jing Hong (郭劲红), China- Liu Xiao Yun and Zhu Hong (刘啸赟与朱虹), and Thailand- Ornanong Thaisriwong (欧那农·泰斯日旺); the two directors are from Singapore- Liu Xiaoyi (刘晓义) and Thailand- Pawit Mahasarinand (帕维特· 玛哈萨里南).

The first two plays are linked. They're titled 'Descendants 600: 600 years. Nanjing, Nanyang.' 《后代600: 600年。南京,南洋。》and 'Descendants 400: 400 years. Tang Xianzu, Shakespeare.' 《后代400: 400年。汤显祖,莎士比亚。》. But the points the plays try to convey flew over my head.

The first play lost me at eunuch, castration, traditions and inheritance. I wouldn't have known what it was without reading the back story in the program. The actors were putting across messages about body mutilation and career achievements moving in parallel. It was ermm...unsettling to think deeper about it.

The second play placed Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello and Lear along the same lines as descendants of a heritage. The summary of the play in the printed program hints at how we have "no ancestors, no bloodline and we're descendants to none", and somehow descend into materialism and consumption. It then suggests that "Singapore has neither Tang Xianzu or Shakespeare, and hence we have Kuo Pao Kun". Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu were contemporaries. But wow. To pull the literary card, and allude to Admiral Cheng Ho too. I vaguely get it, but I don't feel like getting it at all. Whether this ends with a bout of forced laughter or tears/sobs, I can't connect with it. Sorry, this is too highbrow for me.

I really enjoyed the third play '⇆Gertrude⇆Ophelia⇆' 《⇆葛楚德⇆奥菲利亚⇆》. It was first rehearsed in Thailand's B-Floor Theatre. The actresses don't speak a common language and come from different cultural backgrounds. On stage, they hold vastly different vibes and that helped the audience recognize how extreme their characters are. I understand that the actresses improvise and do a slightly different version of the movements for each of their shows. All our comparison essays about the characters in Hamlet and its portrayal of women came rushing back. :P It was fun to see them utilize the entire space, going in and out of the doors and all that. Its interactive elements with the audience made the play feel approachable.

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