Crystalwords Theatre Highlights 2013

Goodbye 2013! It's time for my annual theatre round-up. 

The usual preliminaries:

(a) This list is written in a purely personal capacity and reflects all the theatre productions I have watched (both Singapore and overseas) for the year. Revivals by the same theatre company are not included.

(b) As always, I rate all my productions, basing my score on acting, directing, script, production values and the overall experience. My average production score for 2013 is 3.4/5 which is only slightly below last year's average of 3.5/5.

(c) Because Top 10 lists can be pretty dull, I've decided to do my annual theatre round-up in Academy Awards style like last year.


Best Actor - Seth Numrich, Sweet Bird of Youth
Seth Numrich is magnetic as golden boy Chance Wayne in this classy revival of Tennessee Williams's play about failed dreams and the relentless march of age. Numrich displays an impressive range in his performance: from breezy insouciance to desperation and drunkenness as he sees his fragile life collapsing around him. He also squares off extremely well against veteran Kim Cattrall. A fabulous London stage debut. 

Best Actress - Steffanie Leigh, Venus in Fur
The sexual dialectic twists, turns and thrashes in David Ives’ sizzling, exquisitely layered two-hander which is lifted by an outstanding performance by Broadway star Steffanie Leigh. Her alternately playful and predatory charm as she works her way round Anson Mount physically, emotionally and mentally leaves one utterly enraptured. Who needs Fifty Shades of Grey when you can watch this sort of thing in the flesh? 

Best Supporting Actor - Keita Oishi, Musashi
Yukio Ninagawa's supremely entertaining tale of two rival swordsmen is peppered with wonderful performances and one of the highlights is Keita Oishi, the slightly quirky temple abbot Heishin, who provides wonderful moments of comedy with his well-meaning but rather poorly thought-out antics. 

Best Supporting Actress - Jo Kukathas, Asian Boys Vol. 1
Jo Kukathas's quietly affecting, nuanced portrayal of an elderly lady in Huzir Sulaiman’s Occupation won rave reviews and a much-deserved Life! Theatre Award for Best Actress in 2013. In this deliciously queer romp through Singapore history, she proves herself equally adept at comedy. As Agnes, the goddess sent down to Earth to save gay men from themselves, she has the audience eating out of her hand with superb facial expressions and boundless charisma.

Best Script - Faith Ng, For Better or For Worse
I had my reservations about Faith Ng’s canny dissection of middle-class Singaporean marriage due to its sparseness but the strength of this play lies in its very simplicity. It's a raw and affecting piece of theatre that showcases the playwright's fantastic ear for dialogue but more significantly, this is a play that is proudly, unabashedly Singaporean. It’s great to hear that Ng will be replacing Huzir Sulaiman as mentor of young playwrights at NUS – it looks like the future of Singapore writing is in very good hands.

Best Set Design - Philip Engleheart, Next to Normal 
London-based designer Philip Engleheart has designed all three productions for PANGDEMONIUM! this year and has given each a unique stamp. In Next to Normal, his set takes a step towards the symbolic with its bold, brain-like centrepiece framed within the outlines of the face, giving primacy to the mental illness that looms over the play.  A stunning design that perfectly accentuates this dark, bitter musical that is punctuated by raw, vibrant humanity.

Best Costume Design - Moe Kasim, Jack & the Bean-Sprout
W!LD RICE can always be counted on to deliver a smart, snazzy and smashingly entertaining family occasion to usher in the festive season and one of the highlights is the superb costume design by veteran Moe Kasim. From life-sized gambling tools to eighteenth-century courtiers to cute little mice, this is probably one of the best costume designs I’ve seen in a local production this year in terms of its sheer volume and variety.

Best Ensemble - Cook a Pot of CurryW!LD RICE
Alfian Sa'at's verbatim play which explores the tensions about immigration and national identity may not have had the dramatic thrust of its spiritual predecessor Cooling Off Day but one cannot deny that it boasts an impeccable ensemble cast comprising Rishi Budhrani, Nelson Chia, Noorlinah Mohamed, Neo Swee Lin, Najib Soiman and Judee Tan. Each actor to pitches their scenes at just the right level to get a laugh or empathetic round of applause and shine at their spot-on impersonations and quicksilver transitions. 

Best Director - Tracie Pang, Rabbit Hole
In a play that could so easily have been a maudlin tearjerker, Tracie Pang strikes a delicate balance, allowing the emotions to literally bleed into each other in this well-judged, keenly-observed production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama. Pang extracts superb performances from her cast - Janice Koh and Seong Hui Xuan turn in their best performances yet - and she uses comedy beautifully to keep the sentimentality at bay.

Best Overall Production - Rabbit Hole, PANGDEMONIUM!
PANGDEMONIUM's rendering of this sensitive, nuanced and incredibly moving play about the gossamer fine architecture of grief is no better proof that Singapore theatre has truly reached international standards. Outstanding script, fantastic acting, superb direction and enough tears to flood the DBS Arts Centre. 

*Check out my top Singapore theatre productions of the year as part of the Inkpot Picks 2013 here and part of the TODAY arts round up here 


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