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Afar 《远角》

August 30, 2012
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Event: 《远角》Afar by Drama Box 戏剧盒
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 23-25 Aug 2012
Written by: Lee Shyh Jih 李世炬
Directed by: Jalyn Han 韩雪卿
Cast: Doreen Toh 卓桂枝, Goh Seok Ai 吴惜爱, Karen Tan 陈慧娟, Tan Shou Chen 陈寿臣, Tan Wan Sze 陈宛诗.

In a land of balloons (which to me, bore a slight resemblance to human figures, or even cerebral matter), we are thrown into a space where unexpected ‘pop’s and smashes provided an air of edginess to a conversely mystical atmosphere. The balloons represented memories, and even dreams that could burst any time, like what the balloons did, or as fragmented as it is, floating.

The pliable balloon structure ‘sculptured’ by Lim Weiling (林玮翎) was innovative in the use of ice blocks and water balloons as weights, and yet organic in its role, providing that element of transience and unpredictability (if not fear, for those afraid of balloons). The melting ice lent itself to set the balloons afloat at intervals, and served as props for smashing at opportune times as required by the script. As the water dripped, a sense of danger was also given as we worried if the actors would slip and fall, as did Wan Sze did, but the show went on as if it were part of the show.

And I must say, theatre these days are becoming more and more 4D in its experience, as the spatial design of sound vibrations and also the use of props and seating to shake up and surround the audience caused us to have some interaction, at least in the physical experience of the show. This was thanks to Darren Ng (黄泽晖). I’ve had similar experiences in some other productions like the recent Lord of the Flies.

In costumes, the actors started out in a contrast of pink and green waterproof dressings, providing some reference to the dream-like state of the show. The use of the contrasting pink dress on Karen clearly defined her as the lead in the show. However, the actors were stripped white later, maybe in reference to the slow awakening to memories of reality, and maybe also the blending of the characters? For even though there were 5 people and seemingly 5 individual stories, it was possible to weave them as one, even as I found myself linking all the characters up at the end as a collective whole. Coincidentally, the director mentioned that that was somewhat what she had in mind, that the 5 characters can exist in any one individual, and how we respond to them would depend on how we could relate to them. It was intriguing that the playwright had intended the characters to be neither female nor male, and flexible enough for the roles to be swopped about.

What I felt through the show was that the cast was in a kind of limbo state of mind as they recounted their memories. They were like in a world of their own, but also challenged with an occasional interference that came from the ‘outside’, like the lighting calls and the sound of what resembled the sound of a heart monitor in the background. So the audience was like peeking in, watching from afar. As the play progressed, the memories became darker, and the blackout emphasized the dark and fearful memories that the characters had. I’m not sure what the constant reference to Li Bai’s 《静夜思》was about (memories?), or the expectancy of rain when the sun is blocked a constantly tracked number of times (hope?) though. But I began to think if they or one of them were in a coma, creating that world? And with Karen’s character’s farewell speech and disappearance, I wondered if her leaving meant she was dead or alive. I believe this ‘dead or alive’ string of thought was kept constantly throughout the show, even till the end as we continue guessing, as the remaining characters seem to continue on another cycle of tentativeness.

The surtitles were delivered quite badly though with inconsistent projections and being blocked by balloons for the 1st half of the show.

A play opened to many interpretations, I think Afar  is an interesting piece for exploration and also for the sensory experience. However, the lack of a main message might prove challenging for comprehension.

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