Personal stories in The Theatre Practice's Upstream recall art of raconteur

UPSTREAM by The Practice Lab

Stamford Arts Centre/Wednesday (Oct 14)

Watching Upstream, The Theatre Practice's latest production helmed by director-playwright Liu Xiaoyi, for a review is like swimming against nature's formidable flow.

How does one evaluate a series of monologues, each rooted in an individual actor's personal history?

Liu, who mentors the actors under the company's training-focused wing The Practice Lab, let his charges plumb the depths of their past, for the good and bad.

The six monologues this reviewer watched (there are 11 in total, as actors perform in two different groups on alternate nights), were by turns affecting and awkward, akin to listening to friends regaling you with their darkest secrets at a cosy fireside chat.

At a time when sprawling, experimental performances are in vogue, Upstream, in all its black box intimacy, recalls the lost art of the raconteur.

It is also a credit to Liu and his actors that most of the monologues did not devolve into navel-gazing litanies, instead creating lens through which bigger issues were refracted.

Actor Darren Guo turned a narration of his facial features and mundane exchanges with his mother into an inventive thesis on the unreliability of memory and identity in the modern age.

For most of his performance, his disembodied face appeared on only a monitor hooked up to his iPhone camera, and it flitted in and out of focus, as he moved and spoke.

Actress Lee Qian Yu, whose intentionally vapid monologue (read off her iPad, no less) either amused or exasperated audiences, acknowledged the criticism that the Google generation of millennial artists today have a sense of entitlement and lack enough life experience to make art.

But even this reviewer's patience frayed while she repeated ad nauseam: "My seniors once told me: 'A good story must have tension!'"

Indeed, she had succeeded at creating tension.

Other performers in the show were a delight to watch because of their sheer storytelling skills.

Actor Ric Liu took the audience through an ebullient retelling of his childhood memories and dreams using nothing more than a rickety white chair, his physicality and some creative shadow play. An actor laid bare, at his best.

Not every story proved a hit.

Actress Felix Hung's meditation on her relationship with her father started off fine, but soon spiralled off into a hysterical stream of barely intelligible Cantonese. She also stumbled over her script several times, which was distracting.

Missteps aside, Upstream is a cleverly curated and riveting compilation, underpinned by a conviction that our most personal and painful stories, the ones we guard so jealously, ultimately help us make sense of who we are in this crazy world, and are the ones most worth telling.

jianxuan@sph.com.sg

BOOK IT / UPSTREAM

WHERE: Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street

WHEN: Till Oct 24 (except Oct 19), 8pm daily

ADMISSION: Pay as you wish, but registration is required

INFO: Go to bit.ly/upstream2015 or call 6337-2525