Words: Constance Lim
Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers, choose between peril and curiosity!
Think you know all about the property market? That’s cute. Just kidding! After Sight Lines Productions’ “Boom” by Jean Tay, you’ll never look at property the same way again.
It’s been a good four years since Boom was first performed in 2008, so you’d be pleased to know that it has been updated with elements that will resonate with an audience in 2012. Characters trade loads of unintentionally witty quips. It will challenge the perspective that you walked into the theatre with. When a local play becomes so easy to relate to, this is what we forget: When we laugh, the joke’s on us.
There’s no disputing the acclaim and educational value that accompanies this script. The classic conflict-of-interests it presents are not merely seasonal hot-button issues, but unique and pertinent to the nature of our country. All the difficult questions about the way we use our land examined in this microcosm. Let’s face it, the only way for these problems to cease existing is if we suddenly gain a generous landmass. Well, you know how THAT worked out. Oh yes, the sharp direction does the script plenty of justice.
In this play’s second incarnation, Fanny Kee reprises her role as “Mother”. Who else could we see as the effervescent and delightfully nutty “Mother”? For those who are apprehensive about the absence of theatre veterans on this stage, I would say the directors Derrick Chew and Engie Ho made a sound judgement call with the cast of new faces and comic talents. The actors brought a youthful and daring vigour as well as an unassuming freshness.
Fanny Kee plays the aging, but tireless “Mother” who never loses her feistiness and stubborn courage to stick the worst times out. She is not just the playwright’s case for anti-materialism, but also fiercely protective of sentiment and identity. Andrew Lua is “Boon”, the property agent with the Singapore dream: work your ass off, earn enough to invest and upgrade your status symbols, live it up in the all-too-distant future. Amanda Tee and Benjamin Kheng clearly have a knack for versatility, each portraying a plethora of characters: realistic Singaporean young professional archetypes, heartlanders who see en bloc as a way out or a siege, and a couple who jumped out of a yellowed photo album.
Engie Ho is nothing short of a dragon lady as the demanding “Director” (Ministry of Land) that would have any of her subordinates scurrying to meet their KPIs. Erwin Shah Ismail plays the caring, hilariously literal (and squarish) Ministry of Land civil servant “Jeremiah” forced out of his air-conditioned comfort zone and redefines productivity. Vincent Tee comes alive as a cuddly “Corpse” who is the reluctant and annoyed voice for the dead who cannot do much to campaign for their not-so-eternal rest.
As their strongest suit is in the acute portrayal of relationships, it is difficult to view each character in isolation.The ability of the cast to work together remarkably and sharp direction is showcased in the seamless back-and-forth storytelling. The family in the past (Amanda Tee, Benjamin Kheng and Andrew Lua) could very well have grown into the family in the present (Fanny Kee, Vincent Tee and Andrew Lua), while retaining the essential qualities that makes each character notable. It does justice to the saying “Some things never change”.
These were the memorable moments that had the audience at the edge of their seats or rolling off in raucous laughter: Insistent licking, the unbearable shiokness of things beyond our reach, the dead frustrating the living hell out of an exhumation officer, spontaneous serenading in dialect, flipping the bird at the boss, one meltdown after another and beautifully delivered revelations.
My only gripe was that one scene did not meet its maximum potential. The incident where “Boon” was forcibly chained to a tree did not quite inflict the severity of the trauma that the fantastic build-up and follow-up suggested. It was carried more by the lights, sounds and set than the acting, which could have taken the audience to the anxiety-fuelled part of the childhood nobody wants to revisit: escaping and resisting punishment. This missing puzzle piece could have strengthened the overall performance.
In terms of production values, it seems like this team can do no wrong. Let’s start with the set. Dat set. You can literally back dat set up. No seriously! The imaginative, tongue-in-cheek set has already garnered rave reviews. Every inch is thoroughly and magnificently used, exploring levels and depth in a fashion that is uncommon to many productions. The brilliance of the set, lights and sounds is found in the perfect amount of spot-on details, capturing the character of crowd pleasers like the sterile ivory tower, the forbidding Chinese tomb, Paradise Condo and the family home. Everything comes together to tell one heck of a story, and could overshadow the actors if they’re not at the top of their game.
Particularly memorable was the nostalgic element that the production has down pat. While the crew makes us feel like we’re watching an old, grainy film, the cast takes us to the forgotten past itself – from viewers to witnesses. Boom will make you long for that old and suspicious-smelling childhood pillow or stuffed animal you never quite let go of. Bonus points for bombarding the audience with property ads in English and Chinese during the intermission! Boom never stopped being entertaining, amusing and thought-provoking, even when I had to pee.
In a play loaded with meaning, Boom still renders the universal search for a place to call home best: The desire to fill and permanently change what is essentially just a space with all of our being: our presence, stories and time, to return to it and the lengths we would go to do so. Some place we can never escape, be it begrudgingly or lovingly. Not just in this lifetime, but also next time. Whether we go upstairs or downstairs, we’ll just want to feel at home. This is something you’d like to hear straight from the corpse’s mouth. No, that’s not crazy at all.
Sight Lines, a fledgling production company seems to be carving a niche by staging plays that hit close to home without skimping on quality. They are changing things up in the theatre scene with the bold move of using a largely unknown cast. Give them a chance to surprise you and replenish the local theatre scene with deserving new blood!
Event: “BOOM” by Sight Lines Productions
Venue: DBS Arts Centre, Home of SRT
Date: 29th June – 8th July 2012
Ticket pricing: $40 – $55
Purchase your tickets from SISTIC now.