Two Songs and a Story

written, composed and performed by ants chua, Inch Chua, Jo Tan, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and weish 
created and dramaturged by Huzir Sulaiman
directed by Huzir Sulaiman and Joel Lim 
Checkpoint Theatre

Like so many other arts companies, Checkpoint Theatre has been dealing with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic this year which has seen the closure of theatres and cancellation of its mainstream productions. It has responded swiftly and with grace, working with the Esplanade to transform Lucas Ho's The Heart Comes to Mind - originally conceived as a live performance - into an audio play and presenting other digital experiences such as Cheyenne Alexandria Phillips' lecture-performance A Grand Design

The company now presents Two Songs and a Story, an online video series of five solo performances, featuring original monologues and music of ants chua, Inch Chua, Jo Tan, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and weish. 

Directed by Huzir Sulaiman and Joel Lim, each piece is filmed separately and independent of the others. We are invited into the worlds of these performers and learn about their personal struggles, traumas and experiences. Running through each segment is the idea of moving ahead, healing and confronting the world on one's own terms. In these troubled times where so much of our daily lives and routines have been upended, these brave, tender snapshots of humanity remind us that it's the little things that count

In at least I have words now, ants chua tries to articulate the emptiness one feels when losing a friend, sharing an episode about a failed childhood friendship and how they had struggled to say sorry when it mattered. Inch Chua's Super Q gives us a powerful insight into the hidden figures behind the COVID-19 battle by presenting her experience volunteering as a sanitation assistant in a foreign worker dormitory. Jo Tan's A Bit explores escapism and simple pleasuresrecounting a day in the life of a quiet office worker who is addicted to an anime series. Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai's And Then I Am Light navigates her thorny experience with relationships and her attempt to find peace and acceptance from within. Finally, in Be Here, With Me, weish deals with the aftermath of a traumatic encounter and how her life has been quietly spinning out of control. 

Music has always played a key role in Checkpoint productions, reinforcing the narrative and reminding us that this is a company who see themselves as a band of storytellers across various genres. City Night Songs blended text, movement and music to chronicle a group of friends navigating love and life in the city. Thick Beats for Good Girls was a raucous and entertaining marriage of hip-hop and personal anecdotes. 

In Two Songs and a Story, music is no mere accessory but genuinely bleeds into the individual stories of the actors. Inch Chua effortlessly integrates songs into her story, reinforcing the contrast between the quiet comforts of home and her disorientation whilst performing her sanitation tasks. Likewise, weish embraces her trademark medium of live loops by placing key words like 'trauma' on repeat in her monologue, conveying the idea of an individual being overwhelmed by her thoughts. 

The filming and editing likewise seek to echo the tone of each piece, making for a rich and dynamic viewing experience. at least I have words now plays out like a simple, honest confessional that speaks directly to our hearts. The rapid changes in camera angles in Super Q and Be Here, With Me echo each character's broad spectrum of emotions as they tell us their stories and maintains dramatic tension. And Then I Am Light deliberately juxtaposes sultry, glamorous, song segments with a down-to-earth interview filmed in black & white to suggest an individual pulling back the layers of her identity and revealing herself for who she truly is. 

There is generous, sensitive direction and some fantastic performances on display here, ranging from Jo Tan's comic finesse and colourful use of voices to Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai's gorgeous vocals to Inch Chua's rich tonal variation. Yet, there is fat that can be trimmed from the narrative; certain sequences feel too protracted or fail to make an impact. Some of the segments are akin to being invited to peek into a private box, beautifully wrapped and beribboned, but with nothing much to behold when one is actually inside. 

I discuss this production in more detail in the Arts Equator theatre podcast, together with playwright, poet and editor Nabilah Said and theatre educator Matthew Lyon.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


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