Riveting twist on classic

Gloria Tan plays four of the seven creatures, including Kancil the mousedeer, in The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil.
Gloria Tan plays four of the seven creatures, including Kancil the mousedeer, in The Chronicles Of One And Zero: Kancil. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

REVIEW / PLAY

THE CHRONICLES OF ONE AND ZERO: KANCIL

Zeugma/Esplanade Theatre Studio

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Wednesday


It is another year in the life of Kancil, the darling of the jungle, and her friends - Elephant, Monkey, Buffalo, Tiger and Crocodile - are all abuzz as they prepare to fete her birthday. Only Snail is absent as Kancil, or mousedeer in Malay, has consigned her to the forest fringe.

They have, however, noticed that she greets her milestone with sadness, from atop a hill. That vantage point enables quick-witted Kancil to witness the great iron beasts of progress razing their habitat. Yet she says nothing to her pals about their impending deaths.

The wonder in this interpretation of the Malay fable by new performance collective Zeugma, is sole thespian Gloria Tan, who plays four of the seven creatures, including Kancil, with verve and panache. Elephant, Tiger and Buffalo are voiced sonorously by playwright Zulfadli Rashid, also known as Big.

In Malay lore, the mousedeer is a metaphor for living by one's wits, leading to victory over even outsized beasts. Wriggling, writhing and rolling about the stage in billowing white from head to toe, Tan is an evocative force, now coquettish as Kancil and then menacingly raspy as Crocodile, switching characters in seconds. You will feel Buffalo's pain when, as Crocodile, Tan sinks her teeth into sculpted fabric, making like she is tearing at his flesh. Later, as Kancil, she lets fly gongfu kicks at crocodiles whom she has duped into forming a bridge across the river so she can trip over them to ravish ripe mangoes.

The only time Tan flags, with her stock gestures a mismatch for her bloodcurdling screeches, is during a too-long sequence in which Kancil reacts to bulldozers, depicted in a video of images that judder to thunderous jackhammering sounds. Media designer Brandon Tay's digital wizardry is eerily effective, but director Rizman Putra may wish to shorten this segment which turns terror to tedium.

  • BOOK IT /THE CHRONICLES OF ONE AND ZERO: KANCIL

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $22 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Kancil realises, too late, that it is no point being intelligent if one does not help others. Big, in fact, portrays her as twisted, as she often delights in hurting friends. Rizman's simple and fluid direction yields an experience that will rattle even those indifferent to nature.

The beauty of this one-hour play is that the strengths of everyone in it shine through despite the compromises they had to make for their individual views on the classic - or as Big puts it, "before zero became one" - saga of Kancil to fuse.

Big's taut script drives its messages deep into the heart and sound designer Max Lane's wistful, lilting melodies capture the Malay soul.

It may be an unhappy birthday for Kancil, but Zeugma's effort is a stirring start to the theatre year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Riveting twist on classic'. Print Edition | Subscribe