Theatre review: C-o-n-t-a-c-t presents a tragedy of disconnection

(From left) Sarah (Chanel Ariel Chan) and the stranger (Keagan Kang) in the theatre production C-o-n-t-a-c-t. PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE


Singapore Repertory Theatre

The Arts House, Thursday (May 5)

This 50-minute two-hander digs deep into the topic of urban isolation.

It takes audience members walking around the Civic District, against a backdrop of the pitter-patter of corporate workers going home, as well as the historic surroundings of the Singapore River.

The setting might be romantic, but what unfolds is a tragic tale of disconnectedness, as characters strive to make contact but are unable to do so, whether due to the cultural mores of avoiding strangers, the need to hide one's pain, or practical anxieties born out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Originally a French production written by Eric Chantelauze, it is presented here by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and directed by Daniel Jenkins.

Sarah (Chanel Ariel Chan) is approached by a stranger (Keagan Kang), who turns out to be much more than he seems - he can hear her thoughts. And so can the audience.

The production stands out for its ingenious use of sound, immersing audiences aurally in the characters' world via an app created specially for the show.

Audiences are guided to use their smartphones and headphones to navigate the performance, watching the actors as bystanders. The result is an intimate, if voyeuristic, look at Sarah's inner world - her fears, pain and regrets - and a dreadful sense of solitude.

It feels eerily similar to everyday life - milling around in crowds with headphones, but not feeling connected to anyone. In this context, Sarah's every startled look and change of emotional register touches precisely because of its ordinariness.

While there are only two actors, everyone else in the district also contributes to the production's backdrop - pedallers on a night cycle; men in office wear on benches engrossed in their phones; and other random passers-by who may or may not look on puzzledly at this group of people following Sarah and the stranger.

Actor Keagan Kang plays a stranger in C-o-n-t-a-c-t. PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE

The production's state-of-the-art 3D sound design is replete with dialogue, inner thoughts, ambient noise and sound effects that conjure up other locales or past memories.

But a word of advice for those with noise-cancelling headphones: listen also to the background sounds of the Civic District.

For in the mutterings of people on their phones or singing softly to themselves, there may be whispers of a quiet, desperate desire to be heard and understood.

Book it/ C-o-n-t-a-c-t

Where: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane
When: Until June 5, Tuesdays to Sundays (including public holidays), 6, 7.30 and 9pm
Admission: $38 from SRT's website.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.