Perfection of 10
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore
Perfection of 10 concludes with a bang the summer season at the Studios.
Director Sean Tobin puts together 10 plays written by different writers with a common theme, “what is perfection in theatre-making?”
Like Forced Entertainment in UK, the emphasis here is on the performative, on the physical and visual, on challenging the audience with its own randomness and playfulness.
Director Sean Tobin is part of the show itself: he opens the show with an heartfelt confession about his own directing process, coming—as he puts it—from a personal quest, a personal interest.
He also announces that he will be acting in the show itself. While he says that, he squeezes a tomato in his hand and splashes onto his chest. This cameo presence gives an original touch, setting up the tone of the show, which is highly self-referential.
Sean sits at a desk where tomatoes and what looks like a script are laid: he is ready to direct and observe his show from there. And at irregular intervals during the show he recites “I have a whole in my heart to fill” while splashing another tomato onto his chest and in some occasions, in his role of director, participating in the action.
This is definitely a director’s show, where the physical presence as well as his own voice and vision is felt throughout.
After the initial statement, one of the few video projections presents one of the actresses backstage, who, in a caricaturesque Sinenglish accent, goes through newspaper reviews about the show.
Four actors appear on stage trying to write a script without really managing it. This is swiftly followed on by another disjointed vignette that has a highly physical comic beat. A mother (Ang Hui Bin) cleans up after her effeminate son (Tan Shou Chen) and her physical training-obsessed husband (Rizman Putra) till she gives it all up. In another highly comic scene, Rizman Putra plays a father, a cleaner in a museum, while a second actress (Patricia Mok) as a statue uncomfortably stands on a chair wearing a heavy and oversized coat. The father talks about his son who wants to waste his life and become an actor while we see the actress-statue sweating and slowly moving under the heavy coat.
Till then, the show is entertaining with some good funny moments and highly energetic acting; some sections are recurrent throughout—the woman cleaning with a mop and chanting about cleanness, another song as a sort of lulluby saying something along the lines of, “I love my mother... I love my father... I love everybody”. Obviously the director’s own intervention, some more tomatoes are being splashed onto his chest and occasionally onto stage.
Afterwards, things turn a bit more random and more ‘vocal’: the actress standing on the chair turns against the director complaining that she cannot bear her pose any longer. She engages in a longer angry monologue about her status as performer. She aggressively addresses the audience, making a pledge for the importance of theatre but also complaining that she hardly feels comfortable acting on stage etc. This continues untill she starts singing in a karaokish voice and the others join in. But, suddenly, the stage turns quiet and we see the four actors in roundly-shaped costumes setting up chairs on stage in slow and calculated movements.
This is supposedly meant to challenge the audience who are then asked to participate in a half-improvised and quite badly executed Q&A session—the writers are invited on stage but they say nothing at all. A few words are shouted from the audience and we are told that these should become part of a new script one of the writers will write on the spot. This is acted out later on, but with little impact: the script turns out to be quite shallow and we can only see the actors chasing the director on stage, like children in a playground. While they are having fun, I am not sure the audience actually is.
In the midst of all this, the only dramatic piece—written by Ng How Wee—and the only one that sounds at all like a script talks about a mother asking her son to kill her, to push her from the rooftop of the Esplanade. This touching and delicate script, however, fails to strike a truthful chord. The acting that had so far been very energetic fails to adapt to a piece that is oddly placed towards the end when things are getting messier.
Although original and challenging, the show suffers mainly because it lacks a core in a brave yet unsuccessful attempt to show too much. The shorts that are projected at random become more and more obscure and unrelated. What happens to the main part of the show? What was all that fuss about perfection?
Within the genre of this kind of theatre, the use of scripts, in the end, is too much of a pretence as the voice of the director in the attempt to put them together is far too strong. I am not really sure whether having a script—or 10 different scripts for that matter—really makes a huge impact. Moreover, in the audience participation parts of the show and when the actors are addressing them directly, the direction is quite aggressive towards the audience—to the extent that you feel, at times, patronised and shouted at.
The best part of the show is, in the end, the set, in its clean, simple sophistication of straight white lights illuminating the poles of the stage and its grey screen in the background. The biggest disappointment is that the show, with all its potential, is rather ‘imperfect’ and not always well thought through.
Sean Tobin definitely has a vision and a talent to create something fresh and interesting but I do not think I have seen the best of his work.
Otherwise, I can confidently say that this show does not take away anything from The Studios' season that has showed me some good pieces and some good variety.
Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli