Theatre review: House of hissing femmes in 8 Women

Review Theatre

8 WOMEN

Sing'Theatre

School of the Arts Drama Theatre/Last Friday

The chemistry among eight competent actresses made this French farce sizzle, in spite of a plot with more holes than Swiss cheese.

In an isolated country home in 1950s France, the owner Mark lies dead, stabbed in the back a few days before Christmas.

The only possible suspects are the eight women of the title: his two daughters (played by Sophie Wee and Julia Abueva), wife (Tan Kheng Hua), mother-in-law (Neo Swee Lin), sister-in-law (Serene Chen), the two maids (Daisy Irani and Morgane Stroobant) and a mysterious lady in red (Kimberly Creasman).

Tensions wind tighter with every passing minute as the women accuse each other of having done the deed and expose motives for doing away with Mark. These run from adultery to financial fraud.

In between pitched fights, they make fruitless forays to leave the snow- blocked home.

They might have succeeded had they exchanged stilettoes for snowshoes, or realised that the very obvious thunderstorm mid-way would clear the paths - but then, where would be the fun in that?

Common sense has always given way to comedy even in the original 1972 play 8 Femmes (Huit Femmes), written by Robert Thomas and translated into English recently by Donald Sturrock.

Its popularity surged in 2002 as director Francois Ozon turned it into a movie full of musical numbers, with a cast that included the glorious Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve.

For this English adaptation, director Samantha Scott-Blackhall and executive producer Nathalie Ribette opted to leave out songs such as Papa T'es Plus Dans Le Coup (Papa, You're Out Of Touch), citing staging difficulties.

This is a blow for long-term fans of Sing'Theatre's musical revues.

By way of compensation, there is live music provided ably by Bani Haykal. But the composer-musician is given hardly any time to shine, with only one full number allowed him right at the end of the play.

Costumes and furniture are perfect for the period, but I am not convinced that the sets needed to move around that much. Walls shrink and tables move closer to actors at times in order to heighten the atmosphere of gas-light uncertainty.

Such frills are fun but also slightly insulting to the talent displayed on the stage. Good actors create their own atmosphere and require no additional mechanics to convince the audience of the fear, horror or anger they are emoting.

Perhaps the most difficult role is that of the younger daughter, played ably by Abueva as a tomboy whose boyish facade hides frightening depths.

The other characters are stereotypes played to perfection.

Tan is the restrained Singaporean wife whose claws unsheathe mercilessly when taunted by her histrionic sister, played by Chen.

Neo is delightful as their ineffectual and fluttering mother, while Irani as the long-suffering housekeeper had the 300-strong audience in splits, with hilarious tirades in Hindi to calm her nerves.

Watching these eight women hiss, spit and spar on stage is so enjoyable that it overrides any urgency to find and punish Mark's killer.

And as the women expose his iniquities and weaknesses through their dialogue, one would rather they forget all about him and just settle down to bond over their mutual strengths.

akshitan@sph.com.sg