by Edith Podesta and K Rajagopal
Singapore International Festival of Arts 2023
SOTA Studio Theatre, Singapore

This cross-collaboration between writer-director Edith Podesta and filmmaker K Rajagopal as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts has something of the epic about it. On a giant screen above the stage, we watch a film about the residents in an apartment block going about their daily lives shortly before an unnamed cataclysm. A husband and wife navigate their strained relationship. A lonely expat forges an unexpected bond with his cleaner's daughter. A composer contemplates his craft. 

Simultaneously, the film is being made in real time on the set below. The duality is deeply fascinating. The poetic sweep of the finished film, all shadowy and sentimental, is juxtaposed with the rawness of the skeleton beneath. We see crew members spraying windows to create the effect of rain, actors being filmed from multiple angles and flats moved back and forth between each take. By peeling back the layers, are the emotions any less real? 

Pompeii deals with grand themes such as life and death yet these manifest themselves in the quotidian. Objects like a chipped mug, a book and a sewing needle acquire a deep significance for these characters as they navigate loneliness and search for meaning in their lives. At the end of the day, how much are we defined by the objects we leave behind?

Podesta's script is witty and whimsical, reading almost like a prose poem as it examines the lives of these unnamed individuals who become symbols of all humanity. However, it also feels too wordy and indulgent with a propensity to over-narrate and philosophise. Ultimately, Pompeii is a technical tour de force - an impressive interdisciplinary production with incredible coordination by the creatives across performance and film. A show that breaks things down and builds them up again with beauty and brilliance.

The Crystalwords score: 3.5/5


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