“Triple Bill” at M1 Peer Pleasure Festival: Hard Bills to Swallow

By Eugene Koh

(924 words, 7-minute read)

Triple Bill at the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival 2017 presents three acts in a single show, each of them presenting different issues that are all extremely timely. Each act in its own way contends with an issue that people try to avoid. Each of these acts is a bold step in inviting an audience to confront these issues: an effort that must surely be applauded, first and foremost.

Triple Bill starts off with “Nonsense”, a piece devised and performed by the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore). “Nonsense” delves into the reality of the current refugee crisis and explores our society’s reactions to the “nonsense” that is happening in the world. The cast of actors bring to the stage a great kaleidoscope of scenes: in one scene, we are transported into a circus full of wonderful acts, in another, we are at a poetry recital, and in yet another scene, we are at a soup kitchen. Beyond that, however, the cast of actors bring to the performance a level of maturity that invites the audience to seriously reflect. The opening monologue describes the world where “all the things die”, a world where there are “no more clouds and no more birds”. The simple language cuts deep into the core of the issue: a clear reminder that “Nonsense” is no pure fluff.  Jean Ng, who conceptualised the piece, also made certain remarkable visual images to play on stage. In one moment, the ringmaster of the circus presents their final act as he places himself in a box labelled “refugees” and then has a sword piercing through the box: an evocative reminder of the grotesque quality of entertainment that happens when we watch news about refugees. Ng has also included in the performance various multimedia footage of the Syrian War, but the footage provided a little too much context that was already quite apparent within a skillfully devised piece.

"The Box" by St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School
“The Box” by St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School. Photo: ArtsWok Collaborative

Next in line is “The Box”, tackling an issue that is more relatable, but in some ways, should be harder to confront: social media. “The Box” is devised and performed by students from Saint Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School; students who are living in the age of social media. The piece is set in a world where girls attend school at an imaginary institution called “The Box”: a school where all students and lecturers dress up in clean, picture-perfect lab coats and attend classes on how to be as popular as you can be in the digital world. The story centres on Clara and Germaine, childhood friends and both students of “The Box”. The piece sets up a usual and expected dichotomy between a presentation of the ‘real me’ and the need for social affirmation that social media provides. Clara as a fun-loving yet rebellious girl while Germaine follows the rules of social media at the expense of her true personality as well as her friendship with Clara. “The Box” intersperses the main story between Clara and Germaine with scenes of the girls taking photos at socially unacceptable times and places, such as funerals and during family dinners. Ultimately however, “The Box” presents a mere statement that losing your personality to social media feels wrong, and adds little to the subtle complexities that the issue can potentially be confronted with.

"How Did I Mess Up This Bad: An Analysis" by UNSAID
“How Did I Mess Up This Bad: An Analysis” by UNSAID. Photo: ArtsWok Collaborative

The last act in the triple bill confronts yet another issue, but this time completely heads on. “How Did I Mess Up This Bad: An Analysis” delves into one person’s attempt at curing her depression through trying every rule to be happy that she can think of. Syafiqah’s writing is peppered with self-reflexive humour and at times stretches the boundaries of talking about depression by using and subverting clichés. At one point, she demonstrates a humorous awareness that the ‘depressed girl’ is a common trope, giving Rachel, our protagonist a dry enough sense of humour about her condition to wonder aloud that “maybe I’m a cliché”. Syafiqah’s effort to add depth to the complex issue of depression pays off handsomely, helped in a large part by Sharmaine Goh’s quietly effective performance as Rachel. However, there seemed to be less attention in Syafiqah’s characterization of the people in Rachel’s life as compared to Rachel’s own character. Rachel’s boyfriend, best friend and parents all display the usual failings of how loved ones deal with a person’s depression, each of them having just a slightly different way of saying “You should snap out of it.” These supporting characters then seemed more like the monsters that are hiding under her bed, rather than actual human beings also trying in their individual ways to approach and encounter their ideas of depression. That aside, Syafiqah dexterously paints a very convincing reality of one person trying to fix her life that falls faster than she can deal with.

"The Box" by St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School
“The Box” by St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School. Photo: ArtsWok Collaborative

Triple Bill presents a wide range of talents and capabilities from youths of all walks of life, all coming together to encounter and confront issues that are extremely pertinent in our current daily life. Whilst these acts reveal some hints of inexperience, the capable leadership of directors attached to each act allowed the pieces to come to terms with the issues that each piece is confronting in a deeper level than it might have been. For a festival that targets mainly the youth as an audience, the exposure to these issues are in fact enough to strike deeper reflections.

Triple Bill was staged from 1 to 4 August 2017, as part of the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival 2017 presented by ArtsWok Collaborative, in collaboration with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

Guest Contributor Eugene Koh has a wide and varied plethora of interests, from banknote collecting to creating constructed writing systems. His greatest interest lies in the craft of theatre, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Studies at the National University of Singapore. He is committed to encouraging and engaging with a new theatre scene that is brave enough to tackle uncertain issues in a challenging world of the future.

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