Theatre review: Escape room meets video game in Murder At Mandai Camp

Erwin Shah Ismail as Lieutenant Haziq in Murder at Mandai Camp: The Case Reopens.
Erwin Shah Ismail as Lieutenant Haziq in Murder at Mandai Camp: The Case Reopens.PHOTO: SIGHT LINES ENTERTAINMENT

Review

THEATRE

MURDER AT MANDAI CAMP: THE CASE REOPENS

Sight Lines Entertainment

Future Stage, Tuesday (Dec 22)


This production is not so much a theatrical experience as a video game.

This is a sequel to a Zoom production that was first staged in June when venues closed during the circuit breaker period and the theatre community scrambled to pivot to other platforms.

The good news is that with veteran playwright Chong Tze Chien penning the script, this virtual escape room-meets-murder mystery boasts better-than-average dialogue.

The bad news is that unless one is a video game or escape room fan, this gameplay experience can feel disjointed as one struggles to navigate the interactive platform and find new points to the story.

The premise is that the viewer, who can log on anytime between 8pm to 4am on the day of his ticket booking, has to solve a cold case.

Just to make things interesting, there is a countdown clock that allocates 90 minutes of gameplay, which escape room fans will appreciate.

Much of the action from the player's point of view takes place in a cluttered army office which he has to search for clues. A video wall collates clips which introduce various characters in the case.

Army recruit Ilhan (Irsyad Darwood) is the murder victim in a cold case reopened by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

CID officer Lemuel Ng (Benjamin Kheng) interrogates two main suspects - Captain Ronald (Ronald Goh) and discharged Lieutenant Haziq (Erwin Shah Ismail).

The last character in this drama is army recruit Tan Chee Meng (Bright Ong), hospitalised in the Institute of Mental Health following the murder and then found drowned.



CID officer Lemuel Ng (played by Benjamin Kheng) interrogating Captain Ronald (Ronald Goh). PHOTO: SIGHT LINES ENTERTAINMENT

There is also a supernatural element in the form of the classic long-haired female ghost that pops up to shock players at assorted intervals.

There is much clever crafting in this production, which employs 360-degree virtual-reality video and surround sound design to good effect.

A couple of standout scenes involve Tan's creepy encounter with aforementioned ectoplasmic entity in a toilet and the climactic night-time sequence involving three characters and the ghost at different locations, which players can click and zoom in on for different points of view.

The narrative, perforce, is fractured because of the technical and structural demands of the virtual platform and gameplay premise. This is either engaging or exasperating, depending on the player's patience.

This production's saving graces are the standout performances from Ong, a hot-tempered "ah beng" who picks on Irsyad's whinily privileged Ilhan, and Erwin as Haziq, who hides an undercurrent of frustration beneath an easygoing exterior.

Chong's scripting gives zing to some of the exchanges between these three characters, touching lightly on issues of class and race.

This is not traditional theatre, but it is old-school theatre craft - from writing to staging to acting - which has enriched this newfangled Frankenstein creation born of technology and the circuit breaker.


BOOK IT / MURDER AT MANDAI: THE CASE REOPENS

When: Till Jan 2, 8pm to 4am daily

Admission: $20 a person, $88 for a group of five, from Sistic (call 6348 5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Info: sightlines.com.sg