Secretive Thing 215

by Secretive Thing
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020: My Country and My People
(organised and curated by TNS)
Centre 42 and Waterloo area, Singapore

As far as fringe theatre goes, this one-person experiential event is quite thrilling. It comes from an unknown local entity called Secretive Thing and we have absolutely no idea what to expect.

Prior to the event, we are contacted via WhatsApp by co-creators Lemon & Koko and asked to bring a fully charged phone and a set of earphones. We are also told that this will be a rain or shine roving event.

Photo Credit: Secretive Thing

On the day of the 'show', we get a text from the Glasgo Mascon Kline (GMK) Medical Institute, telling us that our application to join their “revolutionary medical community” has been successful. We are due to report for a mandatory scanning session at Centre 42. With a mix of excitement and slight nervousness, I am handed a luminous yellow safety vest by a front-of-house volunteer and proceed for the scanning at the back of the building. I receive a Grade C (as does everyone else, I later learn) and am told that my goal is to achieve a Grade A by completing a variety of assignments to the best of my ability.

We then go about a series of mundane tasks such as retrieving envelopes from locked boxes and depositing them in boxes located elsewhere in the general Waterloo vicinity. Key codes are sent through a secure web portal to enable us to unlock the various boxes. There is a general sense of unease as we go about these tasks, a Big Brother-like atmosphere of surveillance that weighs on one's mind.

Throughout the encounter, we also receive notes from a dissident within the system who encourages us to rebel by leaving us handwritten notes and telling us to ignore what we have been tasked to do. It is entirely up to one whether to pay heed to these messages and the element of choice is what makes things interesting. I chose to simply complete all tasks as instructed and returned to the headquarters after about 45 minutes where a text informed me that my grade had improved to a B and that my work would help Singapore’s progress. I later learned that those who had chosen to collaborate with the dissident forces saw their grades deteriorate to a D and were to be sent off to re-education camps.

The whole encounter is a canny commentary on how we go about our daily lives in Singapore like automatons, following a routine set by the authorities without really being able to exercise our own judgement. One has to give kudos to the team for being extremely responsive and creating a largely seamless overall experience.

Photo Credit: Secretive Thing

That being said, a little more effort could have been taken to truly bring the experience home. Audio clips about the GMK Medical Institute are largely repetitive, filler pieces that fail to engage. The sinister, totalitarian world that is presented is also marred by the presence of volunteers in safety vests hovering at the periphery of one’s vision or the occasional technical glitch. I received an incorrect code in one instance and was told to wait until a flustered-looking assistant helped me out. I found myself craving some form of concrete human interaction rather than simply dealing with electronic stimuli.

It would also have helped to get some sense of payoff for either completing the tasks or choosing to rebel. Instead, the encounter concludes rather abruptly as we return back to the start point and surrender all items. The threat created ultimately does not feel real and it almost does not matter how we had performed.

Secretive Thing 215 may not be perfect but this is a truly unique fringe theatre event that embraces the festival theme of national identity and throws us into a real life detective game where we are forced to decide whether or not to accept the status quo. With a little fine-tuning, this event could really shine.

I discuss this production in this month's Arts Equator theatre podcast, together with playwright and editor Nabilah Said and theatre educator Matthew Lyon. 

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


Popular Posts