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“And Then There Was One” by spell#7

March 17, 2013

AndThenThereWasOne1Event: “And Then There Was One” by spell#7 (as part of the NUS Arts Festival 2013)
Venue: NUS Baba House
Run: 9th, 10th, 13th – 17th, 20th & 22nd March 2013

Murder At The Blue Mansion

It’s not often we come across interactive audio-based play adventures, much less ones involving a murder mystery, so this one was a refreshing experience.

The last time I recall attending something like this was “Songbird” at last year’s Singapore Arts Fest, which proved to be a rather engaging affair in itself.

Truth be told, there was little to go by based on spell#7’s event description alone, and neither had I visited the NUS Baba House before, so I had hardly any preconceived notions before attending the play.

It took a slight bit of effort to locate 157 Neil Road, but the moment I arrived and took in the splendour of the Straits Chinese heritage house with the distinct blue exterior, I had a good feeling about what was to unfold.

After having had a bit of time to hang around in the main hall to soak in the atmosphere, we were each given a pocket-sized booklet with vital information pertaining to the play, along with an MP3 audio player, after which we were told to proceed with the hour-long journey.

The play is loosely based on the actual case of the 1926 Neil Road murder, whereby a young Chinese man by the name of Edward Tan was allegedly murdered by a gang of robbers, with his sister Dr Helen Tan (originally Dr Hannah Tan) and detective Dixon (originally Dickenson) being the main characters in the play.

The play consists of twelve distinct scenes each written by a different writer, and because of the fact that I was only made aware of this after the play, I had no suspicion of this whatsoever during the play itself, which suggests that the overall writing and construction of the play was largely seamless, with imperceptible differences in tone.

The voices were enacted by well-known theatre practitioners such as Daniel Jenkins, Tan Kheng Hua, Isabella Chiam and Edward Choy, which made the roles seem highly believable.

While the general storyline wasn’t too different from your typical noir detective plot, with elements of secret love affairs and all, I thought the creative team did a pretty good job in drawing up a story which made it critical that the participant visit and explore the entire Baba House, together with the House’s surrounding elements such as the back alleys, the church and the nearby shophouses.

It was the weaving together of all these various elements in a highly relevant manner into the story which I thought was masterful.

Not to mention ending off the play at the House’s rooftop – an impressively picturesque view especially in the evening – which was a beautiful way to cap off the entire journey.

The pacing of the play was good, and it literally kept you on the move constantly without dwelling too long in a specific location.

There seemed to be just enough time given to move from one location to the next – not more, not less.

However, while most of the audio instructions with regards to where to proceed to next were clear enough, there were moments where I wasn’t exactly sure where I was supposed to go, or whether I was on the right track.

There was one location in particular – the tracks at the far end near Blair Road – which took me awhile to get to because I wasn’t very sure if I was supposed to be making my way there during the play.

(Tip: Although the organisers would encourage you to experience the journey on your own, it would be advisable to synchronise your journey with a friend so that you can assure each other that you are both on the right track.)

The entire play is audio-based, meaning that apart from visiting the various locations, there are no live performers to see.

Care should be taken though, especially when crossing the many roads in the vicinity, since you are constantly listening intently to the play on your earphones.

And while “Songbird” was based around the Esplanade Park area, “And Then There Was One” has the added advantage of not only being staged in the actual Neil Road district (where the 1926 murder took place), but also being set in an immaculately-preserved Straits Chinese ancestral home, which makes the entire experience seem that much more authentic, as if you were actually being whisked back to the 1920’s just for that one hour.

Even if I wasn’t able to follow the entire audio play as closely as I wanted to, and missed out on details here and there because I was busy taking in all the sights and sounds of Neil Road, I thought that in terms of the overall experience, “And Then There Was One” was a highly enjoyable one and was surely one of the most entertaining interactive plays I’ve ever attended.

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