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“Casting Back” and “Rant & Rave”

October 15, 2012
by

Event: “Casting Back” (as part of the Esplanade’s 10th anniversary celebrations)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Date: 13th Oct 2012

Event: “Rant & Rave” (as part of the Esplanade’s 10th anniversary celebrations)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Date: 14th Oct 2012

Rolling Back The Years

Truth be told, it is hard to examine Robin Loon and Casey Lim’s “Casting Back” without also considering Chong Tze Chien’s “Rant & Rave” in the same breath, much like how one simply cannot assess the musical landscape of the 60’s without discussing both the Beatles and the Stones.

The much-anticipated duo of plays both played one day after another over the weekend as part of the Esplanade’s 10th anniversary celebrations entitled “Dedicated to You”, and while there was the inevitable overlap of material since both were local theatre retrospectives of sorts, there were also many marked differences between the two works.

“Casting Back”, written by Robin and directed by Casey, stars both Nora Samosir and Christina Sergeant playing themselves, and as you may have heard by now, despite their many years of experience in local theatre, this was actually the first time both actors were involved in the same production.

The opening musical montage led off with Starship’s iconic “We Built This City”, which immediately drew guffaws from the audience, and what followed was a barrage of songs like “Like A Virgin”, “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Straight Up”, “Lost in Emotion”, “West End Girls” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, which left you with absolutely no doubt as to which era you were currently being transported back to.

I thought it was a brilliant setup.

With the crowd sufficiently warmed up, Nora and Christina proceeded to casually stroll on stage and struck an instant rapport with the audience.

Despite their pronounced disclaimer at the start of the show that this was not going to be an expose, nor a retrospective, nor a history lesson, nor a lecture performance, “Casting Back” turned out to be a bit of everything really.

The show essentially felt like an intimate conversation over coffee between two old friends as they compare notes and recall fond memories of their many grinding but fulfilling years in the local theatre scene.

There was this pervading sense of nostalgia throughout the show, giving the audience a sense of how far we’ve come as a theatre scene, through the recollection of past productions the actors were involved in, such as “The Moon is Less Bright” (1990), “The Tragedy of MacBeth” (1993), and “Agnes of God” (1994), as well as the reminiscing of old theatre venues such as the World Trade Centre Auditorium, the Cultural Centre, the Victoria Theatre, and the National Theatre.

The show was also peppered with wonderful anecdotes, and while the tête-à-tête between the two ladies was often delightful and entertaining, one did get the sense that it was mainly the theatre practitioners and old hands in the audience (I am viciously fighting the urge to use the term “veterans” here) who found the material most engaging and relatable.

There was more than one occasion where the odd audience member would instinctively let out an audible “Yes!” at the mention of a familiar old theatre reference, while at other times a line like “You never forget a fight with OKS” would draw peals of all-knowing laughter from those who could only have had experienced it first-hand.

Ultimately, it was the nostalgic feel-good factor, coupled with the enigmatic presence and sparkling delivery of both Nora and Christina, which held the show together and made it such an enjoyable journey.

And while “Casting Back” revelled in its old-friends-reminiscing-over-coffee vibe, its sibling show “Rant & Rave” also took you on a walk down theatre memory lane, albeit through a different approach.

“Rant & Rave” is Chong Tze Chien’s latest creation, and stars the equally capable and enigmatic duo of Janice Koh and Siti Khalijah.

Where the two shows seemed eerily similar is right at the start, where “Rant & Rave” too employed the use of a musical montage, although it seemed to me like the songs were predominantly 90’s whereas “Casting Back” used songs mostly from the 80’s.

There was “Set Adrift on a Memory Bliss”, “Smooth Criminal”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Go West”, “To Be With You”, “Black or White”, Change the World”, and “U Can’t Touch This”, just to name a few.

I might be reading too much into the whole 80’s and 90’s thing, but I thought I’d just point it out anyway.

Mayo Martin mentioned that he had initially thought this show to be a roast with the spotlight on theatre reviewers, and I had felt the exact same way.

The publicity materials had given me the impression that this was going to be a show which turns the tables on theatre reviewers throughout Singapore’s theatre history, and while it definitely did cover aspects of theatre criticism in Singapore, “Rant & Rave” was far greater in scope than just that.

“Rant & Rave” was like watching a one-hour TV documentary chronicling the history of Singapore’s theatre scene, with the show being presented in three broad segments: Art & Identity, Art & The State, and Art & Media.

It featured Janice and Siti having to literally go at it in rapid-fire mode, rattling off quote after quote culled from Tze Chien and Tim Wan’s (the show’s research assistant) extensive research, while having to don one prominent persona after another.

At times it almost resembled one of those “comedian does 100 impersonations in under 60 seconds” kind of video, where the donning of a white cap immediately turned one into BG George Yeo, while the draping of a loose shirt instantly turned another into Kuo Pao Kun.

(If you must know, Siti’s impersonation of TNS’s Alvin Tan drew the wildest reception.)

The personalities portrayed ran the gamut, from Ong Keng Sen to T. Sasitharan to Haresh Sharma to Adeline Chia to Dr Koh Tai Ann to Clarissa Oon to Tan Tarn How to Lim Kay Tong.

Even at its breakneck pace, it was never going to be possible for Tze Chien to cover everything in this 60-minute show.

However, I liked the way he went about attempting to cover as much ground as humanly possible, starting from the search for the Singapore identity in the first segment, to the ever-pertinent struggle to reconcile the differences between artists and the State in the second, to the final segment which chronicled the changing media landscape and the proliferation of blogs and reviewers.

The only issue I had with the presentation was that the quotes flashed on the screen were always competing for the audience’s attention while the actors were reading out a completely different quote.

It made things rather distracting throughout the play and it was oftentimes difficult to keep track of what was both being read out by the actors and flashed up on screen.

I’m not too sure if a play has ever attempted to tell the story of Singapore theatre quite like “Rant & Rave” did, but judging by the audience feedback at the post-show dialogue, it seems like many had recognised the vast educational and cultural value in “Rant & Rave” and implored Tze Chien to look into expanding the scope of the play so that it can educate and inform our younger generation of our rich theatre legacy.

If “Casting Back” was the theatre practitioner’s casual walk down memory lane, “Rant & Rave” was the more formal and academic approach to revisiting our theatrical past.

The first took the intimate and more personal perspective, especially from the practitioner’s point of view, while the second approached the subject from a far more macro viewpoint.

Witnessing either production would have given you a good sense of how far we’ve come, but witnessing both gave you the fuller picture.

But ultimately, regardless of which production you had caught or preferred, what we can safely conclude is that we’ve come a ways since the early days of Singapore theatre, and where we are today would not have been made possible if not for the works of those who’ve come before.

And in our constant preoccupation with advancement in this modern day and age, if anything, the Esplanade’s “Dedicated to You” series has given us the moment to take a precious step back to reflect on the past, and to appreciate what and who it took to get us here.

“Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before,
I know I’ll often stop and think about them, in my life I love you more.”
– from “In My Life” by The Beatles

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2 Comments leave one →
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    March 6, 2013 6:42 pm

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