Drama Box and The Necessary Stage
The Necessary Stage Black Box, March 17, 8pm
This swan-song production, the last in The Necessary Stage's black box space before the company moves to a new home, tries to cram too many themes and formats into one show.
The latest in a trilogy of collaborations between Drama Box and The Necessary Stage, the patchy show is redeemed by a strong cast.
There are also a few movingly nuanced scenes which hint at what might have been if some judicious pruning had been imposed on the overgrown shrub of a story.
At the heart of this tale is a love story. Theatre production manager Ramlah Zee (Siti Khalijah Zainal, playing butch with masculine zest) and playwright-actress-director Jackie Oh (Goh Guat Kian) start a theatre company and a romantic liaison at the same time.
Exploring the entanglement of the personal and the professional is a perfectly acceptable and universal theme. Unfortunately the script gets bogged down with too many other issues. The pandemic impact on theatre practitioners, the snarky political asides and the complexity of migration are all weighty topics, each of which could fill out an entire play.
It also does not help that co-directors Alvin Tan and Kok Heng Leun have made the rather befuddling decision to tell a good chunk of the story in video format, as part of a conceit where Ramlah and Jackie are the subject of a documentary being made by Ramlah's aspiring film-maker friend Adam Turner (Tan Guo Lian Sutton).
After so much enforced viewing of theatre on digital formats during the pandemic, the last thing this reviewer wants is more video in a live theatre, however slickly made.
The narrative is further fractured by a play-within-a-play, as well as slippages in a timeline that bounces blithely between past, present and future. This overly complicated structuring makes following the narrative a rather exhausting process.
Yet there are some fine elements in the play, foremost of which are Siti and Goh, who have partnered the co-directors in multiple productions to great effect.
Siti obviously relishes the opportunity to play the foul-mouthed Ramlah, and does so with more than mere swagger. There is real heartbreak in her pent-up frustrations as a Malay-Muslim lesbian suffocating under various social, political and religious strictures.
Goh, who evinces some awkwardness as the coy femme, settles more easily into the mature pragmatism of Jackie, who is perfectly comfortable with being in the closet if that preserves peace and relationships with her family. One of the strengths of this script is its empathetic acceptance of various ways of being.
Playwright Haresh Sharma also writes some nuanced dialogue that deftly plumbs these grey areas of humanity. Jackie's brother Jord (Joshua Lim) prays for God's blessing for his sister and Ramlah in one scene. An argument Ramlah has with a new partner reflects her own struggle with faith.
These passages capture the beauty of people and their capacity for holding on to contradictory beliefs. There is no one villain here, merely the vulnerabilities of characters as they try to navigate the treacherous waters of faith, morality and sexuality.
Book it/ Opposition (R18)
Where: The Necessary Stage Black Box
When: Till April 3, Wednesdays to Saturdays, 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 3pm
Admission: $38 and $28 from Book My Show