Jumaat, 22 November 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

The gem session


A Little Conviction preps up a 'jewellery shop' to observe the politics of gender up close.

IN the battle of the sexes, men have long been seen to be at a disadvantage on account their of being generally clueless.British playwright Jodie Lancaster toys with this notion and the drama of gender clashes in play A Little Conviction which pits hapless Henry at the mercy of his fiancee-to-be Harriet and mysterious jewellery shopkeeper Misha.

The play will be making its debut this week at The Canvas in Damansara Perdana, Selangor, with director Alex Chua at the helm of this Electric Minds Project production. This would be Chua's second time directing a script by Lancaster, having previously done White Trash in 2011.

Chua explains the play's premise – Henry attempting to buy an engagement ring for Harriet, but not being allowed to do so by Misha and her silent manservant – is a deceptively simple one. "While it starts off very realistic, the play gets increasingly divorced from reality as the audience learns there's more to Misha's jewellery shop than one first assumes," Chua says. "We're really hoping it will freak the audience out," he adds with a maniacal laugh.

To aid in the audience's suspension of disbelief, Chua would be dropping them right into the middle of the stage. "There is no audience seating: the space has been made into an actual jewellery store, with the audience sitting inside of it as they watch the scenes unfold around them," he explains.

Due to the unusual use of the performing space, each show can host only about 50 people. Chua elaborates that the actors would sometimes be performing several scenes simultaneously, requiring the audience to decide which character to watch.

"The point is to make the audience feel like they're viewing from the inside, voyeurs in the lives of others," he says. Actress Ostella Adam (who plays Micha) points out that it would not be an interactive performance though. "Don't feed the actors!" she giggles.

Adam says that, like her jewellery shop, there was more to Misha than meets the eye. While not wanting to spoil the surprise, she reveals that jewellery shops tend to be a good place to observe the politics of gender up close. "There's an old adage that goes 'when women go to buy socks, they end up buying an outfit to go with the socks. When men go to buy socks, they just buy socks'. This play explores the reasoning why men and women approach shopping differently and how this difference isn't necessarily a bad thing," she says.

Chua assures the play is not meant to bash gender stereotypes, even if it does poke fun a bit. Tan Meng Kheng, who plays Henry, agrees with the stereotype that men really are simple creatures. "Men's thought process stops after two levels. Women think things over like four, five, eight levels!" he half-jokes. He uses the example of how a guy could buy his girlfriend a dress just because he knows she likes the colour red, but without considering if she would like the design and look, or even want a dress in the first place.

He makes a distinction that being decisive does not translate to being sure of what you want. Tan feels that guys sometimes run on "auto-pilot" when deciding, based on what seems like a logical choice than what they personally feel is best for them.

"In this case, Henry has to find a little conviction in his choice, whether it's an engagement ring or his future wife," he adds.

> A Little Conviction is playing at the The Canvas, G6-C, Jalan PJU 8/3A, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya, Selangor at 8.30pm from Nov 27 to Nov 30, with a 3pm matinee on Nov 30 and Dec 1. Tickets are from RM23 to RM38. Tickets call 03-7880 7999 or visit www.ticketpro.com.my. There are also 'cheap nights' with a mimimum entry of RM15 at 8.30pm on Nov 23 and Nov 26, and 3.30pm on Nov 26.

Unseen barriers


IT is often said that good fences make good neighbours. Proper walls, after all, keep us safe and sound. Issues of beliefs, boundaries and politics were all explored in Walls, a thought-provoking devised play produced by the Five Arts Centre recently.

The show was staged at Black Box, Publika in Kuala Lumpur last week, and was directed by Hari Azizan and Wong Tay Sy, with performances by Mislina Mustaffa, chi too and puppeteer Yiky Chew.

Walls told the story of a woman (known simply as "The Woman") who awakes one day in the quiet tranquillity of Janda Baik to discover an invisible wall isolating her from the rest of the world. Even her various tech gadgets don't work: what a nightmare!

With only her husband's dog and a cow keeping her company, the Woman must make a new life for herself, fighting off the elements and various mysterious phenomena. Through her struggle for survival, however, the normally materialistic, pampered Woman discovers herself, and re-examines her relationship with her husband, a converted Chinese Muslim political activist.

In 'Walls', Mislina Mustaffa (right) put on a splendid performance as The Woman, powerfully portraying her character as a strong figure trying her abject best to thrive despite being trapped in an overwhelming situation beyond her understanding. Chi too (left) held down the challenge roles of both the Woman¿s husband Hugo and their dog Bo.

In Walls, Mislina Mustaffa (right) put on a splendid performance as The Woman, while chi too played the challenging roles of both The Woman's husband Hugo and their dog Bo.

The show opens on an arresting image: the Woman, muttering in terror, scrawling words on her arm in a bid to record her struggles. The show then progresses at a steady pace, with comic as well as dramatic moments, as we see her life before this incident as well as how she copes with it.

Most of the set and props were also wrapped in plastic, preventing cast members from touching them directly and strengthening the show's "barriers" theme.

Stage lights and sound effects were used effectively to simulate the show's invisible walls, while sheets of plastic billowed by fans made a convincing and memorable depiction of rapidly flooding water during a particularly climatic scene.

Walls could be interpreted in a myriad of ways: an allegory of suppression, a call for simplicity of living, a surreal exploration of human nature. Mislina put on a splendid performance as The Woman, powerfully portraying her character as a strong figure trying her abject best to thrive despite being trapped in an overwhelming situation beyond her understanding.

While The Woman was mostly filled with terror and confusion throughout the show, Mislina injected just enough backbone in her portrayal to make her more than a damsel in distress. And a scene where she forced herself not to break down after re-reading an old letter her husband left her is simply electrifying.

And chi too did a decent job as both The Woman's husband Hugo and their dog Bo. Unfortunately, transitioning between these roles was not always done very clearly, which resulted in occasional confusion as to which character he was portraying at the time.

His portrayal of Bo was also not completely animalistic: for example, he occasionally walked on two legs and used his hands, which real dogs would not do.

Perhaps this was a matter of artistic choice, or a statement about Bo's nature, but a more natural, dog-like portrayal might have been more compelling.

It would also have been nice if certain parts of the story had been explored further. For example, late into the show, a mysterious intruder appears and attacks The Woman's animals, forcing her to take drastic action. Who is he and where did he come from? Are there others like him? And how did he penetrate the invisible walls? The story was silent on all this.

The ending of Walls seemed a bit abrupt, but was very fitting: a defiant proclamation from The Woman that although she may be at her lowest, with everything taken from her, she would keep on fighting. Walls offers no easy answers or trite conclusions. Instead, it reminds us that to achieve anything of value, whether it be spiritual deliverance, political freedom, or human connection, one must often embark on a never-ending quest with little sign of reward, eternally hoping the journey will be worthwhile.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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