a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be

by Andrew Sutherland
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2021: Quiet Riot!
(organised and curated by TNS)
Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore

How do we challenge our oppressors? Can we resist institutions, structures, organizations and even ourselves without overt violence but through a more passive revolt? These are some of the questions posed by the latest edition of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, featuring a slew of works with the theme Quiet Riot!.

In the enigmatically-named a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be, playwright Andrew Sutherland and director Koh Wan Ching revisit a work originally performed by graduating students from the Intercultural Theatre Institute in 2019. It's a meandering, meditative piece that tackles climate change while touching on human relationships and memory.

Photo Credit: Rachel Lim Hue Li

In one narrative strand, a young gay couple navigate their relationship. One is an HIV-positive Singaporean (Jeramy Lim) and the other, a Filipino man who dreams of his mother (Shahid Nasheer) moves in with him and even wants to be infected by him so they can truly be a part of each other. Elsewhere, a passionate artist and environmentalist (Liz Sergeant Tan) meets an architect (Irfan Kasban) and start a romance which eventually goes sour when he declares his feelings too soon. Scenes of these two couples are interspersed with comic interludes featuring a baby turtle learning how to swim and monologues by creatures like a seagull, otter and Merlion that paint a grim picture of the havoc climate change is wreaking on the environment. 

Just as a turtle could end up being either male or female when "a (temperature) line is crossed" and thus “cease to be”, so too could human relationships when things go past a certain point. Humanity may irreversibly affect the environment through its actions but nature can sometimes fight back: we learn that the architect was struck by lightning and had a corneal transplant after losing his sight. It's hinted that the architect inherited the eyes of the gay Filipino man's mother (who we see briefly at the start of the play) and in the end, these two displaced men finally "see" each other for a fleeting moment. 

There's a grand attempt to suggest that everything in interconnected in a Cloud Atlas-like fashion but this is not really followed through, feeling both pretentious and a little contrived. I would have preferred a leaner, more coherent plot. Things are also not helped by the lack of chemistry between the actors, particularly the gay couple, who hardly draw us into their story. 

The other bugbear is the decidedly haphazard direction. Bizarre blocking results in certain members of the socially-distanced audience (seated on three sides of a deep thrust stage) hardly being able to see the actors' faces. The sound editing by Vivian Wang needs work and ends up drowning out the dialogue. With a 100-minute run time, this wordy play unfortunately outstays its welcome.

I discuss this production in more detail in the Arts Equator theatre podcast, together with writer, editor and producer Kathy Rowland and theatre educator Matthew Lyon.

The Crystalwords score: 2/5


Popular Posts