Spoiler Alert: If you’re planning to experience the mystery and suspense of Attempts: Singapore, read only after you’ve attended the performance.
By Richard Chung
In a world of innovative theatrical experiences, you often come across too many that scrimp on either execution or narrative. That’s not the case for Rei Poh’s Attempts: Singapore, which operates as a thoroughly well-planned participatory ‘game’ which makes its audience work together to unravel a mystery, one clue at a time. The quest is to identify a missing woman, Anne, who may or may not be involved in a crime.
Centre 42 has been taken over by the fictitious international conglomerate ARC. It has a problem or glitch in its computer system: the fragmented memories of a woman called Anne that threaten to corrupt it. Upon reaching ARC, we choose which team to join, charged with finding out who Anne is before the whole mainframe shuts down by gathering clues. Renamed ‘The Lab’, the entire Black Box at Centre42 had been intricately retooled to resemble a cold, clinical institute, while its inhabitants were dressed menacingly, each well embodied by the cast. As the audience steps in, the rules of the game are clearly introduced and explained to us by Henrik Cheng and Farez Najid. The small audience of 22 is then split into the two groups, each one directed to two different rooms, either the ‘autopsy room’ or the ‘bedroom’, before switching places later on.
Within each room, we’re introduced to some truly fascinating characters. In the ‘autopsy room’, we’re privy to Sabrina Sng, gazing into a mirror and dancing, accentuating every aspect of the distinctly ‘Singaporean’ female body, as a voice plays over the mic, deconstructing the ‘Singapore woman’ into all her component parts. Suhaili Safari flips through a book of female stars, dancing and imagining herself as them, as Farez Najid reappears, this time as a mystical bomoh working his magic. In the ‘bedroom’, apparently belonging to the missing woman, Julie Wee channels a deranged woman scrawling words onto the mirror, exuding madness with each flick of her wrist. At no point do the actors ever interact with the audience, completely focused on performing the scenes and delivering their devised lines and allowing audiences to take things at their own pace. In a sense, one thinks of them almost as akin to watching video game cut-scenes, giving a glimpse into the narrative but never revealing too much.
Each space we enter operates almost like an installation. Effort had been put into creating typewritten letters and handwritten notes, combined with impeccable projection work from Genevieve Peck. Clues are well hidden in the most unexpected of places, such as in a diary. All this made one feel truly like being a part of this made-up world, and more than willing to participate as a ‘player’.
Rei Poh has clearly learnt plenty from his time working with interactive theatre company Coney HQ in London. Attempts: Singapore is obviously the result of strong research and a clear directorial vision that comes with consistently helpful prompts from interactive microphones and an authentic sounding ‘A.I.’, called J.O.A.N. It feels as close to a ‘live’ exploratory video game experience as you’re ever going to get.
Through Attempts, Rei has successfully innovated beyond the traditional theatre form, creating a believable alternate universe by shattering the fourth wall. It is a truly big step forward for changing the way we experience theatre. In all, a rare instance of participatory theatre that excels on all fronts, from set design to narrative and production values. We can only hope Rei and his team keep up the good work and continue to pioneer stellar participatory theatre experiences for audiences.
This review is based on the performance on 25 January 2018. Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh runs from 24 – 27 January at Centre 42.
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.