Theatre review: Earnest play about youth in upheaval is high on ideals, short on nuance

Havoc Girls And Kamikaze Boys boasts slick multimedia visuals.
Havoc Girls And Kamikaze Boys boasts slick multimedia visuals.PHOTO: MEMPHIS WEST PICTURES/JOE NAIR

Theatre

HAVOC GIRLS & KAMIKAZE BOYS

Brian Gothong Tan and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa)

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Nafa Studio Theatre, Thursday (Jan 21)


Girls and boys cry havoc but let slip nuance in this earnest, unbaked Fringe production about youths enduring socio-political upheaval.

In a series of vignettes, it looks at the Hong Kong protests, the Arab Spring and, in a segment that feels thematically out of joint, the Thai youth football team who got trapped in a flooded cave in 2018.

The Nafa student cast tackle the material with vigour, delivering a whole third of it in Cantonese.

On paper, it makes sense to tap the energy of young actors for a play about youth idealism, and a number of them show flashes of promise.

But the production also seems determined to play against their strengths, which do not include singing, portraying older folks and accents. The accent work here is perpetual and distracting.

The production boasts slick multimedia visuals from director Brian Gothong Tan. The Hong Kong scenes are deftly done, with footage of the city in the 1980s intercut with a stylised, slow-motion sequence of the cast donning masks.

There is a great deal of live camera work - the play is also being filmed for video-on-demand as part of the festival's hybrid thrust, which means cameras filming cameras - but while this may feel niftily meta-theatrical, it does not do more than name-check the enormous role social media has played in protests over the last decade.

Traditional media features more, often as fodder for laughs, as in the case of a ditzy American documentary producer covering the Thai cave rescue with her own agenda.

There are a lot of questionable choices, like having a news reporter jellyfish-wave her way around the stage as Hong Kong protesters clash with the police.

The most egregious of these is having an actor camp it up as an unnamed Arab dictator, tacking exclamations of "Wallahi" onto every other sentence, which cheapens the whole enterprise. Springtime For Hitler this is not.


PHOTO: MEMPHIS WEST PICTURES/JOE NAIR


PHOTO: MEMPHIS WEST PICTURES/JOE NAIR

The script by Nabilah Said is at its best when it drifts from realism into a liminal dream state, where students converse through video games; a goddess walks through a cave of waning children; and a woman in red tells a fable about a girl who keeps pointing at the sky, even though there is nothing there and the adults resort to violence to make her stop.

But it is unable to slip free of the grim reality it has taken as its subject, which is the how and why of youth resistance, the complex systems that make young people place their bodies in the path of brutalisation for their beliefs. When it does attempt to depict this reality, it does so with little nuance.

"Do you know why the girl pointed at the sky?" the woman in red asks. It is not something the play has an answer to.

Book It/ Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys

WHERE: Sistic Live

WHEN: Jan 24 to 30

ADMISSION: $15 (video-on-demand) via Sistic (call 6348 5555 or go to the Sistic website)

INFO: Advisory 16 (mature content and some coarse language). Performed in English and Cantonese with English surtitles. For more information, go to the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival Website