Sometimes, watching a play written by Alfian Sa’at is like watching someone pleasure himself or herself and not take the blame for being indulgent.
Given the tough script, theatre upstart Red Pill Productions delivered a noteworthy debut with a restaging of Alfian’s 1999 play Sex.Violence.Blood.Gore, at the Goodman Arts Centre’s Black Box. While the play’s highly-stylised approach lent freshness and perspective to the overall direction, some scenes fell flat among a few standout performances.
The play consists of five vignettes: a geography teacher discovers her sexual prowess in a sadistic gameshow, two Japanese soldiers in World War II enjoy the company of a male geisha, two British ladies from the hoi polloi find out their female maids are in a relationship, a mat and an ah beng realise their true nature after a conversation with transgenders, and a dreamscape features Singapore’s famous pornstar Annabel Chong.
It is a lot to take in, and the script’s language does not do any benefit to the story. At parts, Alfian’s script is marvellously written, with the type of pictorial language that makes you want to roll around in yards of silk. However, for all of its indulgent nature, the convoluted lines and frequent after-the-fact embellishments may throw off anyone without an iron grip on the English language or with a short attention span. It comes short of being painfully elitist, but the script definitely is exclusionary.
This did not seem to faze the young ‘uns at Red Pill Productions, who handled the text deftly. Lines sounded coherent and motives were clearly seen, although long paragraphs got swallowed with poor diction and voice projection. However, inexperience was clearly evident in scenes that required more than the oratorical. A scene where actors Perry Felix Shen and Lala Gwen Thomas are supposed to embrace in hesitation showed that the awkwardness instead stemmed from the actors lacking chemistry and trust, not the characters’ motivations.
Standouts include Sanjay Shivlal’s realistic portrayal of a transsexual, which did not border on the absurd-that-it’s-comical, and Lala Gwen Thomas who delivered a powerful monologue flitting between dreamy and distressed states, before doing a full 180 and hamming it up in the comic portion as an anxious, talkative Malay maid. Lala’s personality, while not overbearing, was evident in the many characters she took up and humanised, which signals longevity in an industry where actors lose themselves in the myriad of roles they assume. You can recognise Chua Enlai in whichever role he plays. You will recognise Lala Thomas in whichever role she plays.
Victoria Chen makes you want to throw bricks at her, which is an excellent reaction given her sterling performance as a British vixen. Chesna Goh’s immaculate portrayal of “Annabel Chong”, from the innocent, savvy earlier self to the calculative yet conflicted porn self, steals the show. Spoiler alert: she also rips apart her shirt to reveal her bra (for the chee ko peks who only came for the scandalous bits). Even then, the scene would have gotten you suitably riled up and desensitised that the moment of reveal would be more “Meh” than “Wow”.
The play’s contextual direction deserved more thought than what was portrayed, though. In ensemble movement, the cast shone: whether it be painting a tableux in Annabel’s scene or simulating sexual acts during a scene change. Some motivations raised question marks, especially those leading to a draggy and tiresome Japanese soldier scene. Perry Shen’s character raised flustered questions, but chose to sit instead. Accents were applied incoherently and were painful to listen to.
It seems director Mark Ng’s energy was more channeled towards the look and feel of the play. The set is masterful with a red-and-white minimalist approach. White opaque screens lined upstage turn red during scene changes where silhouettes perform various sexual acts or those of a risque nature. No other colours were used on stage: every prop was red. Actors wore white leotards and tights with red X-signs off-centre on their, erm, no-no bits. Lighting was strong, with aggressive floods and effective scene framing. Sounds used were en pointe and lent the added layer of absurdity the script tries to flesh out.
Much promise lies ahead for Red Pill. A strategic move to create a splash on their debut, the team pulled out their ace card early. What keeps its hand attractive is if it has a trump card under its sleeve and continues to be consistent in output. A bit more time is needed for Red Pill to find its footing and show variety, but we are definitely keeping an eye out for this theatre group because it has shown it can play with the big boys. Sex.Violence.Blood.Gore is a satisfying carnal feast worthy of its M18 rating. We are hungry for seconds.
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Photos: Red Pill Productions