Under Pressure - Temporary Title

Groupe ACM
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015: Art & Loss
(organised and curated by TNS)
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore

How's this for an interesting premise for a play? Two directors (Emilie Vandemeele and Hélène Françoisface) sit at a table facing the audience and address us as if we are a group of actors whom they are about to direct. They introduce the play we are rehearsing for, take us through a series of voice exercises, complain about various troubles facing the production and gradually grow more and more agitated as things spiral out of control.

Under Pressure - Temporary Title was developed by French collective Groupe ACM while they were in the midst of rehearsing for a demanding production called Caisimir and Caroline featuring nine actors with barely any time on their hands. Emilie and Hélène were asked to come up with a short play for a festival and, after bashing the heads together, they thought it would be brilliant to express their pressures by putting up a piece that is precisely about two directors dealing with the nightmare of staging a production where everything seems to go wrong.

This is a play that is as meta-theatrical as they come and we are treated to a prologue involving a video clip of the opening sequence of Caisimir and Caroline. This actual successful production is then sharply contrasted with the fictitious production they are trying to stage. In doing so, we are given a thrilling exposé into the drama that goes on behind the stage even before the curtains have risen for the first time: actors quitting, seeking sponsorship, dealing with accounts and coordinating rehearsal schedules. As an audience member, it's something we never get the chance to see and it's refreshing to see the inner workings of a theatre production being laid bare with no holds barred.

Most of this punchy forty-five minute production plays out like a monologue where Emilie and Hélène take turns speaking to us, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes having a massive argument amongst themselves when there is a difference of opinion. There is a delicious balletic rhythm to their exchanges and the infectious energy and disarming charm of the duo draws one in. In a hilarious scene, the directors decide to deal with their financial woes by doing some baking. They lazily crack some eggs on a piece of paper, scatter it with flour and chuck the mixture into a microwave oven. Almost instantly, they open the door to reveal a neat little loaf cake which they proceed to slice up and sell to the audience as a means of raising funds for the production. It's a French cake and therefore very good, they insist.

The closing sequence sees the directors gradually descending into mania. One starts stripping off her clothes in a frenzy; the other crawls on the table, smearing her face with what appears to be blood. Music blares as they stagger around in their own warped, wacky worlds. As they later reveal in the post-show dialogue, this very much represents what they sometimes feel "on the inside" in their position as directors. And indeed, we cannot help but empathise even as we wipe away our tears of mirth.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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