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M1 Fringe 2014: 3 Fingers Below the Knee

January 20, 2014
photo credit: Mundo Perfeito

photo credit: Magda Bizarro

Event: Three Fingers Below the Knee by Mundo Perfeito (as part of M1 Fringe Festival 2014)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 10-11 January 2014
Direction & Text: Tiago Rodrigues
Cast: Isabel Abreu & Gonçalo Waddington

“Censorship is the mother of metaphor” – Jorge Lui Borges

*Audience enters.
We are greeted with a set of shrink-wrapped furniture…symbolic of censorship? Hmm….maybe reading too much.
Show begins.*

Three Fingers is a light take on the censorship situation in Portugal during the fascist dictatorship regime from 1926-1974. Following the opening up of the Torre do Tombo (Portugal’s national archive) recently, director Tiago discovered the many censorship reports that made up the content of the play, which was performed in Portuguese, with English surtitles.

In fact, surtitles formed a major part of the performance, instead of the static translation of the words spoken. The way it opened the play (stage directions of entrances from a variety of plays) and closed it (stage directions of exits) and how its use brought you back to the script/text in the censoring of words used, whether symbolically or literally; words were just cancelled out and/or replaced as was what was done during the censorship review. Some of the edits were ridiculous, making the meanings so much less than as it should be.

However, this showed the power (and danger) of theatre and how some of the censors believed the influence theatre would have, and how they were “afraid” of it in that sense especially of the ‘subtext’ of which they perceive. How taking a text and performing it on stage made it so “real” in society, as opposed to the imported films of the same text, which they allowed. And some of these people were in fact quite knowledgeable about theatre, with one giving his commentary on Brecht’s works and influence. There were those who were the ”brutes” though, who at the rehearsal went down to the details of how long your skirt should be, and even the colour of the lighting. There were some who gave the reason that a play would be too complex for the community or not popular, so there wasn’t a point in staging it. Really. Isn’t this a vicious cycle? How would the audience mature then? Some really just wanted to bring good theatre to the community and awareness.

But then again, censorship somehow breeds creativity in that artists would find ways to work around the “ban” such that authorities couldn’t do anything once they gave their approval. Actually, I would think this would make the production more tantalising, and imbued with the power of suggestion, like how ‘purple’ became the new ‘red’.

More importantly, I felt it was a story of finding the answers for some of these theatre companies who never knew the reasons behind the rejections, and how theatre is about perseverance like how 1 company kept applying to play Andorra by Max Frisch, but never managed to get it approved. The irony of how such censorship reports eventually became fodder for theatre and presented as something of a tribute to the power of theatre. Interestingly, the director never lived in such a regime and brought a new outlook for the state of censorship now and then.

Reflecting on the Singapore context, I’m glad we have moved forward in a way that we get to enjoy more theatre now, with just a consumer advisory and rating. At least it gives people the opportunity to make an informed decision while still taking into consideration the more conservative community.

So is censorship all bad? I don’t know. It’s really a matter of balance and as Tiago said, though he feels there shouldn’t be censorship, there should still be civility. Just as I heard someone mentioned recently, she didn’t support censorship but there were instances when she felt that she didn’t need to see played on stage and were not warranted, like someone defecating on stage.

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