Spoiler Alert: If you’re planning to experience the mystery and suspense of Attempts: Singapore, read only after you’ve attended the performance.
By Jocelyn Chng
(518 words, 4-minute read)
Most performances in Singapore keep the audience in their place, passively sitting and watching. Attempts: Singapore is an attempt at getting the audience up on their feet and hunting for clues, murder mystery-style. I go along with the group, at times simply observing, at times finding myself unwittingly drawn to participate in the tasks that the audience is charged with undertaking during the experience.
Attempts: Singapore is inspired by Martin Crimp’s 1997 play Attempts on Her Life, a series of seemingly unrelated splinters surrounding a mysterious character named Anne, who takes on different identities across many scenarios. In this response, directed by Rei Poh, the central question of “who is Anne?” is given an additional framing. On entering the auditorium, we are told that we are now at an organisation named ARC, which has run into a problem with an AI that it created. This AI is called Joan: perhaps named after another famous Joan in history.
Joan tells us that she has fragmented memories of a woman called Anne, the identity of whom the audience members, now cast as a group of specially chosen “researchers,” are requested to aid in deciphering. I am not sure such a framing supports the underlying fragmented, poststructuralist nature of Crimp’s play, or indeed, that of this work itself.
We are herded, in two teams, into separate, darkened rooms littered with clues that ostensibly point to Anne’s identity. As we start the hunt, “Joan” speaks to us in real time, providing hints and also giving reminders of the time left to complete the task. Tense ambient music plays, reminiscent of a sci-fi movie, adding to the sense of urgency. Like obedient, task-focused Singaporeans, most people in my team take this very seriously, diligently hunting for clues that lead one to another. I move around the room fiddling with random objects, wondering how “Joan” would react if we refused to participate, or chose to give snarky responses to her questions.
The teams then switch rooms, and the process is repeated. The two rooms and their contents are quite different: one is an intimate bedroom space strewn with toys, diary entries and lingerie; the other is a dark living-room/work space containing medical reports, test tubes and folders. This disparity makes it impossible to put together a coherent picture of who this “Anne” is. At the end of this second iteration, the voice of “Joan” asks us to decide if Anne is dead or alive – again, my team takes this very seriously, with some individuals showing frustration or anxiety at not being able to come to a consensus. Here is where the overpowering narrative of this staging misses, or undermines, its own point – it really doesn’t matter who Anne is. She is everyone and no one; the representation of what happens when we try to define and delimit others’ identities.
Nevertheless, the team behind this work deserves credit for creating a logistically complex piece with a relatively lean team. Unconventional performances like this are rare in Singapore, and if anything, this work contributes to diversifying and challenging what theatre can be in the local context.
This review is based on the performance on 25 January 2018. Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh runs from 24 – 27 January at Centre 42.
Jocelyn Chng holds a double Masters in Theatre Studies/Research. She is currently building her portfolio career as an educator and practitioner in dance and theatre, while pursuing an MA in Education (Dance Teaching). She is a founding member of the Song and Dance (SoDa) Players – a registered musical theatre society in Singapore, with whom she does choreography/movement training and production work. Jocelyn also writes for Centre 42’s Citizen Reviewers programme. Her reviews can be found here: http://centre42.sg/jocelyn-chng/.
This review was written as part of the Lyn Gardner Theatre Criticism Training Program, an initiative by the National Arts Council, managed by ArtsEquator.com.