The following review is made possible through a Critical Residency programme supported by
By Nabilah Said
(670 words, 5-minute read)
I watched Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands by Sipat Lawin and Friends on 26 February 2020, 34 years almost to the day of the People Power Revolution, which toppled the Marcos government in the Philippines after decades of corruption and totalitarian control and ushered in the age of Corazon Aquino as the new president.
But this is not a political show.
So on a completely unrelated note, Sipat Lawin and Friends staged their own fab revolution with Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands, blowing open the doors of the Arts House in North Melbourne and bringing a jolt of young, unbridled energy to the Asia TOPA festival. In 90 minutes, we are treated to a wickedly funny B-grade action packed meta-theatrical eleganza extravaganza.
At the heart of it all is the politically motivated kidnapping of the country’s beloved popstar Gracielle V, and her biggest fan Selina Malabayabas’ (Ji-ann Lachica) conscience-driven desire to rescue her idol, roping in her activist sister Sanya (Claudia Enriquez) and morally confused policewoman, Sophia Catalan (Adrienne Vergara). Gracielle is due to sing at an important event where the president will unveil a new, country-uniting trans-island railway line and of course, solve all of its problems. The fate of the Pilipinas is in the hands of these trio.
Against this cheesy, Charlie’s Angels-type plot (there is a running gag where Lachica wears less clothes as the show progresses), is a beauty pageant with the three of them as contestants – one of them is hilariously called Hilda World – and a larger frame of an interview between David Finnigan, a fictional employee of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (also the writer of Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands) and artistic director of Sipat Lawin, JK Anicoche.
The latter bit references the diplomatic nature of the Philippines-Australian collaboration, while simultaneously lampooning it. With each interview segment, Anicoche’s clothes become more and more traditional, approaching an almost Buddhist-like aesthetic, and the interview, first in English, transforms into full-on Tagalog gradually. Anicoche is razor sharp in the delivery of his satirical lines, his face deadpan with a cheeky glint in his eyes.
Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands is definitely a crowdpleaser. We get to rapturously clap for beauty pageant contestants, and the three-sided stage gives us a front seat to confrontations that take place between our heroines and the evil kidnappers, played with glee by Efren Pamilacan and KIKI House of Dévine. These take the form of rap battles in Tagalog and English, and dance battles which merge the styles of Filipino fan and fingernail dancing with the more contemporary voguing, and introduces us to the viral budot dance powered by thumping techno.
The entire cast nail the subversive, socially powerful style of the show, but special mention goes to Vergara, who plays the righteous yet naive policewoman to pitch perfect note, with an unforgettable scene where her Catholic religiosity hits dizzying heights. Bunny Cadag is also exacting in her portrayal of the villainous and fashionably dastardly senator Malaine Gutierrez, each facial tic and hair smoothening delivered with impeccable precision.
This show is FUN FUN FUN – there’s a dance battle on a jeepney in rush-hour traffic, there’s an underwater chase sequence (played out on video, designed by Joyce Garcia) and multiple breaks into song, karaoke mics always at the ready. But Anicoche and team never let us forget that what underpins the performance is the reality of the Filipino people – drawing from episodes of history extending into the present. The importance of pledging allegiance to the country’s leaders and believing in the rule of law is echoed by multiple characters in the play, and there is a segment where real-life individuals are quoted doing basically the same, with much less irony.
But this is not a political review.
In celebrating the vibrant lives and culture of the people in the Philippines, Sipat Lawin are really issuing a clarion call for the world and the powers-that-be to pay attention, especially to the young, and for more people to take a stand in matters they believe in. Like Anicoche says in the beginning of the show, “Manila yesterday, Australia today, tomorrow the world”.
This review is based on the performance of Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands on 26 February 2020 at Arts House. It runs until 29 February 2020. Click here for more information and tickets.
For more ArtsEquator articles on Asia TOPA, click here.
Nabilah Said is the editor of ArtsEquator.
About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.