Decimal Points 0, a series of form-frying experiments from Cake Theatrical Productions' associate artists and frequent collaborators, is a little like Russian roulette: you're never sure when the gun will fire, but there is always an impact.
Whether that impact is pleasurable or not, however, is an entirely different story. Decimal Points' emphasis lies in inverting the traditional hierarchies of the rehearsal room, with designers and other behind-the-scenes figures taking the helm, and the results, while hit and miss, are always surprising and a marked departure from the norm.
Lighting designer Andy Lim, whose visual flair has suffused many a theatre production, takes the reins here at The Substation (Oct 16-18), in what he describes in his production notes as an exploration of love. If this is love, it is a swampy murk, an all-consuming shadow punctuated with the occasional scythe of light, full of indiscernible noise, restlessness, and a dull headache from a sensory overload.
Decimal Points 0 begins with a burst of deafening static and a complete blackout, a darkness so thick you cannot see your hand even if you placed it in front of your face (I tried). And then, tiny pinpricks of light pierce this blackness, a small galaxy of amber casting shafts of light on different wedges of audience members. Two black-clad performers melt from the shadows. They are swaddled from head to toe in zentai body suits that also encase their faces, rendering them faceless, featureless silhouettes.
Those familiar with the performers might recognise them by their physique; pole dancer Vanda Seetoh and rock climber Hakeem Kasban eventually do demonstrate their respective skills, and performance artist Rizman Putra ends up tangled in a web of rope, but it takes them an eternity (even if it was under an hour) to get there. The performers circle and cross a rectangular, cushioned space on the stage floor; at opposite ends of the stage, they twitch, nod, and bounce on their heels.
Were these three individuals, cast adrift on stage, looking for one another, but blind to one another's presence? Or perhaps they were deeply aware of each other, but unable to bridge the distance between them, each trapped in a beam of light and also trapped by their specific 'occupations' - rock climbing, pole dancing, and performance art. Or were they simply unable to express emotion with their faces completely obscured, unable to demonstrate affection and warmth?
Lim leaves their actions open-ended, but this handful of fascinating visual moments quickly cease to be either hypnotic or mesmerising, and enter a distracting tedium. The repetition forced me to focus instead on Jeffrey Yue's astonishing industrial palette of sounds, from squeaks and blips to crackles and thuds, and there were times where his soundscape felt more like the centrepiece of the show. At points, I was reminded of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' made infamous by Guantanamo Bay: light deprivation, incessant loud music, the black hoods thrown over one's head.
There is a difference, I think, in encouraging an audience to make connections for themselves, to mull over sensory stimuli and relate it to their own sense of the world - and leaving them to flounder in obfuscating semiotics.
A lot of technical care and daring has been poured into this extremely precise and physically-demanding production, but it works better when interpreted as a theatrical installation, a kooky experiment in symbol and meaning, than in attempting to squash it into any sort of narrative.
Decimal Points 0 may not be entirely lovable, but perhaps that's what love is to a cynic - a puzzling, frustrating relationship with the occasional moment of beauty and clarity.
Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan