M1 Singapore Fringe Festival
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Studio Theatre, Friday (Jan 29)
Experimental theatre company Emergency Stairs is no stranger to pushing boundaries, but some of its previous performances have suffered from a lack of structure.
The Offstage series is a long-term research and experimental project, with its first iteration in 2018 re-imagining offstage roles as characters, and its second edition in 2019 featuring a performance staged behind closed doors, with no audience.
This third version puts the spotlight on how theatre is measured: Should it a be product? Can it be quantified? How oriented is it to the market?
Thankfully, the hour-long production organised its many self-referential questions into a sequence of easily-digestible scenes, allowing viewers to better appreciate the significance of the theatrical conventions being challenged - and there were plenty.
With no dimming of the house lights when the show commenced, the performance extended beyond the stage and included every reaction and shuffle from the audience.
White tape, typically used to demarcate various areas on the floor of a performance space, was also peeled off at one point, altering the space's shape and meaning.
In a brilliant moment of satire, performer Chong Woon Yong mimed a fish trapped in a tiny invisible bowl, effectively symbolising an artist's repression, as the 1993 Mandarin songThe Fish That Swims All Day, by the late Taiwanese singer Chang Yu-sheng, played.
Chong supplied many of the night's chuckle-inducing moments, especially when he read out loud stuffy e-mails from a government statutory board.
As the show progressed, it constantly felt like the rug was being pulled out from under one.
Production choices were consistently undermined, presented instead as a never-ending struggle between artists, regulators and stake-holders.
There were also many metatheatrical moments, such as when an "audience member" played by performer Jasmine Xie stood up, identified herself as a theatre reviewer and proceeded to explain her difficulties reviewing the performance, which she did not understand.
I understood. The reveal emphasised that, like theatre's creation, its critique is often laden with expectations about how a piece of theatre ought to be measured.
Perhaps a more meaningful approach is to just accept a production for what it is. In this case, it is a challenging work which is still surprisingly palatable.
Book It / Offstage 3.0
Where: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Studio Theatre, 151 Bencoolen Street; Sistic Live
When: Jan 30, 8pm (live); Feb 1 to 7 (video-on-demand)
Admission: $27 (live) via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg); $15 (video-on-demand)
Info: Rated PG13; for more information, go to the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival website