Being Haresh Sharma is manic and magical

(From top) Jo Kukathas, Karen Tan and Ghafir Akbar in Being Haresh Sharma.
(From top) Jo Kukathas, Karen Tan and Ghafir Akbar in Being Haresh Sharma.PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY

Being Haresh Sharma is an insightful piece that reviews and restages the playwright's works

REVIEW / THEATRE

BEING HARESH SHARMA

The Necessary Stage in collaboration with Cake Drama Centre Theatre/Thursday


How to summarise close to 100 plays that have informed and influenced theatregoers and theatre-makers over 30 years? It is absurd to even try, hints the opening of Being Haresh Sharma. The titles of the playwright's works are enacted literally, like charades, for laughs.

Being Haresh Sharma could have been simply comic, like the long- running The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It aims higher and strikes true, as a review, restaging and reinterpretation of texts from The Necessary Stage, presented by a former protege with her own aesthetic.

Sometimes director Natalie Hennedige presents speeches or scenes from, say, godeatgod (2002) or Model Citizens (2010). Sometimes the cast summarises an entire play, such as Off Centre (1993). The stories of its protagonists, schizophrenic Saloma and depressive Vinod, reappear often to show how Sharma has dealt with various themes over the years, from divinity to suicide to racial representation.

  • BOOK IT / BEING HARESH SHARMA

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Today, 3 and 8pm; tomorrow, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $28 to $45 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Advisory 16 (some mature content and coarse language)

Hennedige brings favoured motifs to the production commissioned for The Necessary Stage's 30th anniversary. Actors wear oversized masks, ride amusement park animals and climb cages similar to the sets of Electra, staged last year by Hennedige's Cake Theatrical Productions.

It is appropriate. Being Haresh Sharma fits into the director's current interest in reworking canon.

Last year, she reinterpreted Ophelia from Hamlet and Greek tragedy Electra. In Being Haresh Sharma, there are interpretations of what it means to be, say, a Malay woman in Singapore, as seen in Sharma's plays.

Siti Khalijah Zainal replays her roles as a maid from Sharma's Model Citizens, a politician from his Gemuk Girls (2009) and the much-loved schizophrenic from Off Centre. She plays herself, the actress who inspired Sharma to create the acclaimed Best Of in 2013.

Being Haresh Sharma is respectful, irreverent, manic and magical, but it is overlong in its commitment to displaying and dissecting his works.

A similar work-in-progress directed by Koh Wan Ching earlier this year (precise purpose of being broken) faced similar problems: There is too much for a single evening, especially when scenes continue to pluck the same note of emotional intensity. Even comic sketches buzz with underlying horror.

This is still a must-watch work that celebrates The Necessary Stage's past and triumphantly declares a manifesto for the present and future of theatre-makers in Singapore.

When Karen Tan, Ghafir Akbar and Jean Ng enact scenes from Still Building, a video of Tan's earlier work in the 1992 staging plays in the background. When the actors end the evening by re-enacting the titles of Sharma's plays, they no longer do so for pure, comic effect. They chant until the lights fade, calling to life texts that are still to be written.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'Manic and magical'. Print Edition | Subscribe