by Zizi Azah
Teater Ekamatra
Drama Centre Black Box, Singapore

Teater Ekamatra, what were you thinking? Coming from the company that has given us incisive, thought-provoking productions such as Charged, Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa and last year’s rip-roaring Kakak Kau Punya Laki, this flimsy science fiction drama penned by Zizi Azah proves a huge disappointment.

Paradise throws us into the world of dystopian city, Kesamet, where a mysterious disaster has left a few individuals trapped and hemmed in by harsh deserts. The only means of survival is by consuming orgone, an energy-inducing substance that is produced bodily in factories. Dan (Crispian Chan), one of the orgone producers, desperately seeks to remember his past while not stepping on the toes of authoritarian matriarch, Sinan (Ang Hui Bin) who keeps everyone in check.

Photo Credit: Teater Ekamatra

Much of the tension focuses on Dan rebelling against his painfully mundane environment where everyone has a precise role to play to ensure the optimal functioning of society. His only friend Telulah (an exuberant, polka-dotted Eugene Tan in his drag queen persona Becca D'Bus), by contrast, chooses to carry on his tasks without questioning the status quo. Rounding off the cast are Kat (Jean Toh), a factory supervisor and Dan's wife Mag (Maimunah "Munah" Bagharib), an apparent victim of the apocalypse who is revealed to us in flashbacks.

The set-up, of course, begins to smell awfully familiar when Sinan starts going on about increasing the productivity of orgone and building up reserves for a rainy day; if not, "hard truths" must be faced. Here we finally have it – a jab at Singapore's ruthless efficiency where all that glitters may not be gold. The plot may have better captured one's attention if the entire premise had not been so utterly derivative. Barely five minutes into the action, I couldn't help wondering if this was meant to be a localised, industrial-chic version of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Life is meaningless. Let's try to escape. Big Sister is watching you. While there are some clever allusions and witty wordplay, it's a pity that Zizi couldn't find a more original way to articulate her theme.

To add to the dissatisfaction, Paradise is marred by a series of haphazard, unconvincing performances. Ang lacks stage presence and intensity as the cold leader of Kesamet and looks like she is trying very hard not to stumble over her words. Effervescent YouTube personality Munah does a decent enough job as a rambunctious, dog-like pet of Sinan's (who is later revealed to be Mag) though her perennial growling rapidly begins to grate. And it remains unclear to me the exact purpose of Toh's character – she appears to be a callous yes man one moment, a timid, tearful wreck another.

Photo Credit: Teater Ekamatra

Director Rizman Putra catches the odd moment of comedy in the play and infuses the whole affair with a generous dose of physical theatre. A scene of Dan and Mag doing a quirky robotic dance has the audience in stitches and Telulah's sassy, diva-esque presence lifts his scenes even if there is no further character development. However, one cannot shake off the feeling that this – together with needlessly futuristic touches such as translucent orbs and multiple TV screens flashing images to amplify the plot – is all mere padding over a weak, unfocused script.

This is by no means the first time we’ve seen a play that presents a grim, dystopian version of Singapore – both Jonathan Lim’s Pursuant and Ken Kwek’s Apocalypse Live! explored variations of this theme to slightly better effect. Instead of a contrived rojak of popular science fiction themes that skirts this way and that without cohering into an organic whole, I was hoping for something with a little more bite. I’d really love to see an authentic science fiction play set in Singapore but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.

The Crystalwords score: 2/5

*This review was written for The Flying Inkpot.


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