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8 Women

April 4, 2013

8WomenEvent: “8 Women” presented by Sing’Theatre
Venue: SOTA Drama Theatre
Run: 29th Mar – 7th Apr 2013

Lovely Ladies

One might be forgiven for confusing this play with the other play about eight women currently running at the Drama Centre Theatre (“The Bride Always Knocks Twice”), and taking into account also Nine Years Theatre’s staging of “Twelve Angry Men” less than two months ago, as well as an all-male “The Importance of Being Earnest” cast by W!ld Rice later this month, you wonder if this trend of staging plays with large numbers of mono-gender actors is starting to become some cute local theatrical fad of sorts.

But I jest.

“8 Women”, based on the 2002 French-Italian film, which was in turn based on Robert Thomas’s 1961 play “Huit Femmes”, is your classic whodunit murder-mystery play, and stars a host of eight remarkable actresses – Tan Kheng Hua, Serene Chen, Neo Swee Lin, Daisy Irani, Julia Abueva, Sophie Wee, Morgane Stroobant and Kimberly Creasman.

The premise is simple enough: The master of the house is found stabbed in the back in his bedroom one morning, and the murder suspect could only have come from one of the eight women who were present in the house at that point in time.

And as the play progresses, each of the eight characters starts to have her deep dark secrets revealed, further thickening the plot and leading the viewer to believe that any of the eight women could perhaps have been the murderer.

Having never seen the film nor heard of the story before, I viewed the play with fresh eyes and ears, and tried my best to form my own conclusions as the story wore on.

I mean, everyone loves the opportunity to have a crack at solving a murder-mystery, and this was no different.

Things were set in motion quickly enough, as we learn of the master’s death within minutes of the play’s opening.

At once our senses are heightened, and the whodunit starts to get into the full swing of things.

Plot-wise, it felt to me like the play tended to move laterally most of the time rather than forwards.

For a large part of the play – in fact, almost till the end – I didn’t feel that we got any closer to finding out who the murder suspect could have been.

The play seemed to be more intent on throwing the routine spotlight on each and every character, rather than dropping vital leads to aid the viewer in getting closer to solving the mystery.

And neither did the play seem to try to lead you down the garden path by misleading you into suspecting any one character in particular, as some whodunits might do.

As such, there came a point, especially in the second act, where things started to get a bit trying as I was starting to seriously wonder how this entire mystery would be resolved, and if the final reveal would ever live up to all the tedious groundwork that had been painstakingly laid out.

The cast of eight were magnificent to watch, and it is hard to recall if I had seen an all-round ensemble as strong as this one in recent memory.

Serene Chen plays the neurotic hypochondriac sister-in-law to perfection, while Daisy Irani hams it up by playing up her Indian idiosyncrasies to high comedic effect.

Morgane Stroobant was a pleasant surprise as the archetypal seductive French chambermaid, while Neo Swee Lin scores some of the biggest laughs as the Singlish-speaking, semi-wheelchair-bound mother-in-law.

Which brings me to the point about accents: I doubt the multi-ethnic and linguistic element was a deliberate consideration in this play as compared to, say, “The Bride Always Knocks Twice”, and thus I must admit that the disparate accents (e.g. Daisy’s Indian accent, Neo Swee Lin’s Singlish, Kimberly Creasman’s sharp American accent, Morgane Stroobant’s faint French accent, Sophie Wee’s British accent) came across as rather jarring and even disconcerting at points.

For a household of eight closely-related women, it’s hard to see how their accents could all be so disparate.

Julia Abueva, playing the youngest character in the play, easily holds her own and impresses greatly in the role of the younger daughter Catherine in a performance that far belies her youth, although those who’ve seen her in last year’s “Spring Awakening” would be no stranger to the immense talent that this young lady possesses.

A word or two has to be put in for composer and multi-instrumentalist Bani Haykal for masterfully creating the perfect soundscapes for many of the crucial moments in the play largely on his own.

The set by Wong Chee Wai too was a delight in the way it depicted the lush interior of an old country manor, with clever elements such as shifting platforms and frosted window panes to occasionally create deeper elements of suspense.

Overall, was I satisfied with the play’s outcome in the end?

Well, not really.

But then again, it’s hard to imagine how else the play could have been reasonably resolved without seeming too tacky.

Nonetheless, the sheer presence of the eight lovely ladies on stage makes sure that you’d get your money’s worth, regardless of whether the plot twists manage to tickle your fancy or not.

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