SINGAPORE - A cult leader. A man who hears voices in his head. A woman who watches people starve in a dungeon.
These are some of the murderous characters at the heart of Grace Kalaiselvi's Marma Medai - Theerppu (The Judgement), a new play inspired by characters from a 1960s Tamil radio series by M.K. Narayanan.
Kalaiselvi, 44, is too young to have listened to the popular whodunnit when it launched on the airwaves. But she recalls her mother telling her it was "very frightening".
"The sounds were very eerie. A lot of people thought they were ghost stories. But they were actually suspense, thriller, mystery," says the theatre-maker in a video call.
"There were a lot of murders, smuggling - always dark subjects. I was more attracted to the killers for some reason," says Kalaiselvi, who read the plays after she was invited by The Esplanade to direct a show based on them.
Her play runs from Nov 26 to 28 at Kalaa Utsavam - Indian Festival of Arts and concerns itself with five murderers, who are played by Gayathri Segaran, Indumathi Tamilselvan, Karthikeyan Somasundaram, Pramila Krishnasamy and Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai.
Clad in uniform-like attire, they wake up in a strange place with no exit. One of them (played by Dorai) is a "space controller" who forces the others to confess their crimes.
Kalaiselvi says: "Are they in a hospital, an asylum, a police station, an interrogation room? It's up to the audience to decide. There will be a sense of mystery because the characters do not know where they are, and they are being tormented in this space."
The production is performed in Tamil with English surtitles.
It unfolds in a minimalist set and is heavy on movement - Dorai's character, for instance, will engage in Noh-like motions. There will also be multimedia by acclaimed film-maker K. Rajagopal, featuring film recordings, animations and old articles.
"The actors are tired," says Kalaiselvi with a laugh. "They are moving non-stop from the beginning to the end of the play. I made the lines as minimal as possible. Instead, I gave them more movement-based stuff - there's a lot for them to memorise, in terms of how many counts, how many steps."
Despite the dark subject matter, there has been a lot of laughter on the set, she adds.
"I tell them - laugh as much as you want in the rehearsal, but at the end of the day, the audience should be feeling the fear and the suspense."
Book It/Marma Medai - Theerppu (The Judgement)
Where: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: Nov 26, 8pm; Nov 27 and Nov 28, 3 & 8pm
Info: Performed in Tamil with English surtitles
Other festival highlights
These Brief Encounters
Home-grown dance group Chowk Productions and Siong Leng Musical Association will collaborate for the first time in this contemporary dance production, a response to Albert Camus' 1947 novel The Plague.
Where: Esplanade Annexe Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: Nov 19 and 20, 4 and 8pm
Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi - Legacy Of Sahir Ludhianvi (Screening)
The late Sahir Ludhianvi - a revolutionary poet and a titan among film lyricists - left a deep impact on Indian cinema before his death in 1980. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, famous poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar and acclaimed singer Shankar Mahadevan will recite and sing his work in a pre-recorded performance on film. Akhtar, who knew Ludhianvi personally, will also share his memories of the enigmatic poet.
Where: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: Nov 20, 4 and 8pm
Info: Performed in Hindi with English subtitles
Nimirndha Nannadai - Bharathi's Poems Of Strength
This concert by alumni of the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society pays tribute to the great Tamil poet Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi in the year of his death centenary. A selection of his poems has been set to music by his great-grandson, Dr Rajkumar Bharathi, and will be presented by an ensemble of Indian classical vocals, instruments as well as Western instruments.
Where: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: Nov 19, 7.30pm; Nov 20, 3 and 7.30pm
Info: Performed in Tamil
Short films by local film-makers
Check out six shorts by local film-makers - When Mirrors Had Meaning by Yuga J. Vardhan; Nodigal Sivanthaal - Yen Pidiyil Nee (Holding You) and Nodigal Sivanthaal - Vaergalaada (Dance Of The Roots), both by Singapore Indian Theatre and Film Explorers; Smell Of Coffee by Nishok; Dark Light by Vikneshwaran Silva; and Silk by Don Aravind.
When: Nov 19, 8pm to Nov 28, 8pm; all-day viewing
Info: About 90 minutes in total for all films, which are in Tamil with English subtitles
For more details, go to Esplanade's website.