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One Day in this Place

April 15, 2013

OneDayInThisPlace1(Photo: Cake Theatrical Productions)

Event: “One Day in this Place” by Cake Theatrical Productions (as part of The Esplanade’s “The Studios”)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 11th – 13th Apr ’13

Come Together

How does one go about attempting to dissect a Cake Theatre work?

I’ve probably only ever attended two other Cake productions before (“Decimal Points 7.7” last year and “Desire at the Melancholic String Concert” in 2011), so while I was unable to recognise the cameos of characters from past Cake productions in this play, I was somewhat mentally prepared for the kind of theatre I was about to experience.

Truth be told, “One Day in this Place” turned out to be far more accessible and relatable than I had imagined.

This show is the debut production of “In A Decade”, the training playground initiated by Cake as a platform for young emerging theatre practitioners to hone their skills and explore their theatrical aspirations, and features Andrea Ang, Chia Jia Yan, Faizal Abdullah, Luke Kwek, Gloria Ng, Ong Chin Hwee, Brian Bartholomew Tan, Ellison Tan, Michelle Tan, Nicholas Tee and Alexandre Thio as performers.

The play is set in a hypothetical “place” and chronicles the conflicts and struggles that arise when diverse individuals have to come together and learn to coexist with one another in a limited space.

From the onset it is apparent that the play bears the familiar quirky hallmarks of a Cake production, replete with surrealistic elements and perverse juxtapositions.

There is the cleaner, wearing red pom poms on his head, who gets violently thrashed by passers-by to the backdrop of Elton John’s “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” (did I also spot the Velveteen Rabbit soft toy somewhere in the mix?), the Minister who walks around with a noose round his neck and speaks in a strangely creepy way, the book-wielding dictator in shades who stands atop a high pedestal, a seemingly random sequence of local ethnic dances performed one after another, an office scene where employees all sit on toilet bowls, and even a scene depicting two giant-headed pandas conversing with each other.

Almost like scenes from your weird-but-not-exactly-that-scary nightmares.

Things seemed to take awhile to get going, but after the first twenty minutes or so it started to become apparent that this “place” as depicted in the play is none other than our own homeland Singapore.

From there onwards things started to become a bit more digestible, and each scene started to make a bit more sense.

The play touched on many pertinent local issues such as locals vs foreigners, censorship, the stimulating of creativity and productivity in the workplace, domestic helpers and their boyfriends, homosexuality, foreign workers dormitories, and so on.

I found a strong sense of resonance in some of the scenes, such as the one where the Authority continually repeats its stand of disapproval, while the people on the ground rise up to protest, only to find themselves not being able to make a sound despite mouthing the words rigorously.

Another was the depiction of how everyone has become so caught up in the fast pace of life, resulting in people being extremely high-strung and irritable.

As things wore on it became more and more apparent what the play was driving at, but in the same instance, the play was also in danger of becoming too literal and too preachy, which seemed to go against the grain of the Cake style of presentation.

There seemed to be a rather strong moralistic slant to the proceedings, and while the Dali-ish elements were still very much present in many of the scenes, at times things seemed so accessible you could be forgiven for thinking “Wait, how come I’m actually getting so much of this? This IS Cake theatre, isn’t it?”

I was particularly enthralled by the performances of Andrea Ang, Nicholas Tee, and Luke Kwek, who exhibited great range and versatility, although a few others such as Michelle Tan were notable as well.

Ultimately, the play leaves you with a disconcerting warning which is constantly repeated throughout the play, and that is that “you can be anything, (but) don’t be like us”, a stark reminder of the path on which we seem to be headed down and what would happen to our society if we don’t do something about it soon enough.

Kudos to Cake Theatre and In A Decade for such a revitalising and energetic piece of work, and for essentially holding up the proverbial mirror aimed squarely at our faces.

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