Created in 2013, Couch Theatre is one of the newer theatre companies to participate in the Singapore scene. They have impressively carved a place for themselves in the theatre industry and since their founding have staged one production each year. 

This year, the company will stage The Effect by Lucy Prebble from 8th – 13th September. Theatre in Singapore is being used increasingly as a means to discuss issues of socio-political significance and Couch Theatre is definitely playing a part in this.

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After speaking with the director, Ziyad Bin Ahmad Bagharib, who is also one of the company’s founding members, it seems that Couch Theatre has quite a handful in store for everyone. Whether you’re an avid theatre-goer or someone who is looking for a good night out, if Bagharib’s words are anything to go by, The Effect (starring Krissy Jesudason as Connie, Johnson Chong as Tristan, Chio Suping as Dr James, Prem John as Dr Toby) promises to make you think about the way humans love, live and interact.

Priding the company as “a group of friends” before anything else, Bagharib cites their choice of the play The Effect this year to his interests in using it as a mouthpiece to voice issues or themes that he believes are pertinent to the time we find ourselves in now.

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 Simply put, The Effect centres around a clinical trial for an anti-depressant where the psychologist and a wanderer begin to fall in love. But trying to summarise the thematic concern or plot of the piece in one sentence greatly undermines the gravity and merit of the play. As Bagharib pointed out, the entire piece is underpinned by questions about the human experience and how genuine these experiences might be. The play asks “What constitutes the human experience and what is it that actually makes our experiences genuine, if anything”.

“We’re not trying to make the audience think in any particular way. Instead, we want to probe them into thinking  about ethics, medicine and the stigma surrounding mental illness.” Bagharib highlighted that the play resonates with him particularly because of how it sheds light on depression – “Why do we shy away from discussing depression as if it is something to be ashamed of?”

So how does Couch Theatre intend to bring these issues to life on stage? “Conceptual design”, as Bagharib mentioned, is one the primary concerns for Couch Theatre when rehearsing for productions. When I asked what exactly Bagharib meant by that phrase, he elaborated upon the notion of ensuring a cohesive and distinct aesthetic that ties together all the elements when directing and rehearsing the play. So that would mean, set, music, blocking, etc. “We didn’t want to just plonk the script of the play on stage. We wanted it to go through the “Couch filter” so that we could add value to it.” The production seems to be pushing itself to the limits by exploring new mediums of performance that Couch Theatre has yet to try in the past. Bagharib believes that the inclusion of multi-media as a new element to play for Couch Theatre will definitely add an interesting perspective that distinguishes this production from their previous ones (see image below for their 2014 production). 

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What struck me as extremely heartening was the amount of sincerity with which Bagharib spoke about his craft and the rehearsal process. As a first-time director, Bagharib struggled to “find my (his) footing”.

“Finding ways to translate my ideas into action and learning how to build that kind of language and understanding between myself and the actors I am so privileged to work with was a challenge”

Throughout my conversation with Bagharib, he upheld the need for “constant conversation” with his cast and production team, and emphasised that he “does not work alone”. Although Bagharib comes into rehearsals with a clear vision of how he wants the scenes to be performed, he pointed out that he continuously takes into account the ideas and opinions of his cast and always bounces ideas off of them.

So it seems that Couch Theatre has much to offer in terms of making their audience members think about issues which matter and issues which should be thought and talked about. Be a part of that conversation and get your tickets from SISTIC here.

Photos are courtesy of Couch Theatre’s website.

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