By Sherlyn Goh Xue Ting
GenerAsia’s two solo acts in PLATFORM SERIES: Journeys, A Double Bill feature powerful performances from young, local talents Erwin Shah Ismail and Kimberly Chan, but could do with more well thought-out scripts and clearer intentions.
In his self-written play, Kulit On The Go, Erwin explores the art of leather crafting, seamlessly switching between characters such as a cowboy, cattle farmer, and an artisan. Erwin’s impression of each character is spot-on, as he performs in English, Hokkien, Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin, taking on different accents each time. The local references make the characters come across as believable, and I appreciate how Erwin and his director Richard Tan did not see a need to provide surtitles or explicit translations.
Although framed as a monologue, the performance invites audience participation – from helping Erwin dye his leather strap, to examining a leather bag as it is passed around. In some of these moments, lights around the audience come on, breaking the fourth wall and encouraging the audience to look beyond the staged monologue, and see the act as, perhaps, a sharing session or a dialogue that might continue after the show is over.
However, the show loses its momentum when it abruptly introduces the environmental activist just before the play ends, closing on a rather weak and preachy note. The character feels out-of-place, tacked on to even out the strong advocacy for leather crafting throughout the play.
Meanwhile, writer-performer Kimberly embarks on an ambitious attempt to combine acting, singing and dance in her first solo show, In Her Shoes, directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall. Kimberly steps in and out of shoes to portray several women at different stages in their lives, accompanied by classical music maestro Aloysius Foong, whose performance syncs beautifully with her monologue.
This triple threat certainly knows how to command the stage, especially when she closes the show with a stunning flamenco dance, the taps of her heels reverberating throughout the theatre. However, the script leaves much to be desired.
While the different pairs of shoes lined across the stage serve as a strong visual and associative reference to describe the ages and personalities of Kimberly’s characters, this metaphor is not fully explored in each of her portrayals. Weaving the significance of each pair of shoes into the different narratives would allow the metaphor to resonate more strongly and come to life, or it might otherwise feel trite.
The characters also come across as stereotypical, from a 30-year-old with a tiger mum who’s egging her on to get married, to a shy teen falling in love at first sight with a skateboarder in an oversized punk tee. For a show meant to explore the conundrums of being a woman, it feels overwhelmingly focused on love interests, rather than the unique personalities of the women themselves, making it difficult for the audience to truly step into their shoes.
Popspoken attended the 2nd February 2018, 8pm show of JOURNEYS, A Double Bill at SOTA Studio Theatre.
Photo credits: Madkings Production