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Suitcases by The Finger Players

November 2, 2010
by

Venue: Drama Centre Black Box

Run: 28-30 October, 2010

This was one of the most abstract plays I’ve ever watched. Maybe I’m not exposed enough to such plays, but as it is, it was abstract to me.

Stepping into the venue, one is greeted with a structure of scaffolding all over the stage, with intermittent announcements like a radio with poor reception. Of course, this sets the mood, and as my friend puts it, a little creepy in the dark surroundings of the Black Box.

And “creepy” too as it started with the characters entering the space cloaked in white raincoats and painted white faces, in silent movements, dragging in objects in frames that seem to represent ships and planes (I guess that would tie in with the theme of “suitcases” and travellers). As the actors “pottered” around in slow movements, they sort of looked like they were in a chemical plant or something like that, where the things they held were delicate and transported with care. I couldn’t help but be reminded of contemporary dance, though they were not dancing (so you get the idea of abstractness). This I guess, was like the “prelude” to the production.

Well, I couldn’t really make head or tail of the content since speech was almost non-existent. As I went to do some research, this was what one would call “physical theatre” I guess, or maybe movement theatre (something I’ve heard before). So the only thing I could go on was the synopsis to make my own interpretation of the play. Here’s the synopsis:

“In order to truly love a land, one must first unearth the beauty beyond its sorrows.
On a strange yet familiar city, a group of travellers is drifting about, ever-so-ready to fulfil their obligations in life. They exist but their physical beings are unable to fill the void within. A howl is heard from afar, sensual and primitive. The travellers slowly embark on a journey in search of the calling.
suitCASES is a multi-disciplinary performance which attempts to unravel the secrets of our land through an experimental and self-reflective approach.

The 70-min production was broken into 5 parts (as how I saw it), with the 1st being the prelude as mentioned above. The “prelude” as I call it prepares you for the way the play is played out, with the raincoat featuring often, and of course, suitcases. The raincoats seem to signify an outward shield, always preparing for “rain” but the rain never came. The characters take it off when alone or when they present their selves when their segment comes. The prelude leads you first to the 1st character’s journey, that looked like the desire to find love, comfort and warmth; to fit in. The character is lonely, while everyone else is enjoying themselves (and “bullying”/shunning her). The apt use of balloons probably signifies how uncertain it is for her, as they burst. Near the end though, she finds some gladness as someone and a child sees her and greets her (although the “child” was actually a balloon with a raincoat…it was a bit ghostly). However, I had the impression that this character seemed to be pregnant (or maybe not), so maybe there are some implications here. She leaves the stage with a balloon bobbing in the air from her suitcase, maybe like a glimmer of hope.

The 2nd character appears, a rather jovial one in fact, who performs tricks to entertain people and maybe gain their trust. However, the people, amused at first are cold when he(or she?) reaches out. A story about beings (in the form of puppets covered with “eyeballs”), earth and sky starts to be narrated, and puppets (and suitcases) from his suitcase emerges, even as he reveals a grotesque face on his belly. The story ends, and a final puppet emerges, bringing him joy, as he hugs it and leaves the stage. So this traveller finds what he was looking for and his void is filled.

The 3rd character seemed like someone working very hard to fit into society with the routine work, play, eating, sleep and following the directives from “up” above. My friends thought that maybe it was a little subversive. There was a segment on the “speaker’s corner” that has the character voicing her sentiments (“…我们盲目地跟从…”) which inadvertently causes some “torture” carried out. A half-normal (mannequin-like) and half-boils-filled faced puppet was used as the oppressor in command. The character leaves the stage with her suitcase, in pain and submission.

The last character seemed to be one who was struck with an illness or odour that caused her to be shunned. Experts try to clean her up but to no avail and they abandon her. She reveals a decaying chest area and tries to make it worse, seeming to kill herself. However, she is halted when the other 3 characters appear, and they discovered they each have an infestation on different parts of their body and they connect, and become more relaxed as they find their commonality. They no longer need their raincoats and settle in. Suddenly, what they’ve been shielding comes, as it starts to rain (sound only lah) and they enjoy it.

So there, that’s the production. I’m still pretty clueless.

There were some interesting representations, which included the obvious MBS model hung high at the back. Somehow, it made me think that maybe, there’s reference to the underbelly of the city.

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