Hammy but thin tribute to Geylang

Geylang features four plots around the neighbourhood's colourful history and culture.
Geylang features four plots around the neighbourhood's colourful history and culture.PHOTO: 36FRAMES

REVIEW / THEATRE

GEYLANG (R18)

young & WILD

Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle College of the Arts/ Last Saturday

Geylang is given a hammy and free-flowing tribute in this sugar rush of a play about the neighbourhood's colourful history and culture.

Devised by Wild Rice's youth division, young & WILD, the hyperactive production squeezes in as many plot lines as possible, amps up its acting and direction for maximum cartoonish effect and milks every other moment for sexual innuendo, casual violence or a funny accent. I get the impression that the show must have been fun to rehearse, but unfortunately, it is not so fun to watch.

There is no doubt that the young cast gave a lot of themselves. The group's collective will to entertain - even at considerable sacrifices to personal dignity - commands a kind of respect. But the entire business is too shambolic, juvenile and sex- obsessed in a shallow, frat-boy way for the audience to take it more seriously than a graduation show fuelled by enthusiasm and a lot of teenage hormones.

There are four plots in this play, though their connections are tenuous beyond the Geylang setting. Their differences are also considerably flattened by Rodney Oliveiro's relentlessly camp direction, which treats emotional moments and gangland violence with the same jokey tone.

The first plot is a semi-mythic Romeo And Juliet story, where a Chinese girl and an orang laut boy fall in love to tragic consequences.

Time-travelling to the 1970s or 1980s is the second segment, where a single mother loses her young daughter to a shady operation run by a blind temple guru. This story has the potential to be developed as it has darker shades of paedophilia, human trafficking and the occult.

Sadly, the production chooses to concentrate its energies on the terrible third plot, a recklessly pornographic gore-fest about a good-guy gangster in love with the girlfriend of his gang leader. Callous, unfunny and lame, it is made worse by the introduction of a pretentious narrator who sits in a corner and reads out stage directions. Rape, murder and castration are portrayed so thoroughly and with such relish that I wonder if this section was devised under the influence of some malign star, or a collective madness.

Finally, the play rounds back to the last story, a saner one about a civil servant torn between preserving his old home of Geylang and carrying out a redevelopment masterplan. This is where the play works hardest to convey Geylang's strengths: its food culture, as seen in two stubborn mee rebus stall owners who refuse to move, as well as the area's Malay heritage and multi-cultural identity.

But by this point, the audience is too exhausted to care.

There are a couple of good lines, to be fair. During the final meeting with the permanent secretary, a group of Geylang residents bursts into the office to plead its case.

Thinking this is part of a funky new presentation method by his underlings, the permanent secretary cries out: "Is this role play? I love role play."

In general, the acting is energetic but raw, but Yazid Jalil and Elizabeth Loh deserve special mention for the conviction of their performances, which makes the audience forget, if only for a moment, how thin most of the material is.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Hammy but thin tribute to Geylang'. Print Edition | Subscribe