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SAF 2012: Lear Dreaming

June 4, 2012

Event: ‘Lear Dreaming’ by Ong Keng Sen (as part of Singapore Arts Festival 2012)
Venue: SOTA Drama Theatre
Run: 31 May & 1 June 2012
Main cast: Umewaka Naohiko, Wu Man, Kang Kwon Soon, Piterman

A familiar sight greeted me as I found my seat in the first row. Although rusty in my knowledge of gamelan, I recognised the familiar instruments of the slenthem, kenong, gongs, rebab?, among others. It was an ensemble from Solo, and in expectation of a fusion of cultures, we were exposed to a contemporary interplay of traditional Asian art forms and languages – Japanese Noh theatre, Chinese pipa, Korean junga, Minang music-dance-theatre and Indonesian gamelan.

As the show is titled, the story is set in the context of King Lear’s sleep of death, as he reminisces on the folly of his ways which led him to lose his kingdom to his daughter. The whole stage set-up was pretty minimalistic, with 4 actors, black and white tones and a sparse stage. But that was all that was needed as the weight of the show laid itself on the audience and all were focused on what transpired onstage, with no distraction, whatsoever. The show was intense with notes of betrayal, cruelty and regret, but there was also loyalty and love. The cast was wonderful with their portrayal and skill, all expressed in their own specialised art forms.

One of the amazing things that struck me was how perfectly the cross-cultural traditional arts were blended together. Somehow, you couldn’t really tell the difference between the art forms, even the differences in language used, but yet, they still maintained their distinctiveness. Strange isn’t it? This is what real fusion and synergy is about, where nothing is lost and something even more holistic comes out of it. And even though they all involved traditional art forms, the performance was not dated but actually felt relevant. Beautiful. As Ong Keng Sen says in the post-show dialogue, this version was more about the human spirit than anything else. And although I didn’t watch the previous version (which I heard was quite different), I believe this is a matured version that completes the first. As he puts it, society is losing its “layers” and what we have these days are the top or superficial layers. We’ve lost the depth and spirit of old and I believe his approach to this fusion of fading cultures helps to bring us back to our roots.

Just to add, I must admit that I was a little uneasy or frightened by the first appearance of Umewaka in the Noh costume, mask and movement, probably because I was unfamiliar to it. However, I got used to it as the show progressed, and curiosity took its place. I stared hard at the masks (he plays two characters) and wondered if he could see through them, especially for King Lear’s mask. Also, I nearly gasped when he fell stiff flat on his face in portraying King Lear’s death (now I know the reason for the ring of gold in front of the mask).

I’m glad I caught Lear Dreaming, for I believe this was the best production I caught out of the rest that I did go for. The only grouse I had was how tiny the English subtitles were (one of the smallest I’ve seen), especially when I was unexpectedly seated in the 1st row (how did row C end up to be the 1st row?). Fortunately the surtitles didn’t move that fast due to the nature of the speech in the show, but I think it would be hard to read for those who couldn’t see so well.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Krol Lew Online permalink
    February 11, 2013 6:19 pm

    What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity concerning unexpected emotions.

  2. Jeden dzien Online permalink
    February 11, 2013 6:22 pm

    I visited a lot of website but I think this one has something extra in it. “Only grown-ups have difficulty with childproof bottles.” by Joe Moore.

  3. Pila Caly Film permalink
    February 11, 2013 6:23 pm

    You could certainly see your expertise within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart. “What power has law where only money rules.” by Gaius Petronius.


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