The Bride Always Knocks Twice - Killer Secrets
The Theatre Practice
Online, May 31 and June 6, 8pm
It is past midnight and I am searching a dead woman's room.
The woman is fictional and the room is virtual, appearing on my computer screen via a 360-degree camera.
Yet this mystery has proved so incredibly gripping that I have spent over an hour clicking my way around an imaginary crime scene, hunting for clues.
Virtual whodunnits have come into vogue during the pandemic, evolving from the early Zoom experiment of last year's Murder At Mandai Camp to Raffles Hotel's recent The Curious Case Of The Missing Peranakan Treasure.
The Bride Always Knocks Twice - Killer Secrets is the most ambitious offering so far. It is a four-part interactive production, based on an intricately plotted script by Jonathan Lim and Liu Xiaoyi, reined in by director Kuo Jian Hong's astute eye and steady hand.
The play unfolds in a halfway house for desperate women through Singapore's history, from the concubine of the 14th-century ruler Iskandar Shah to a runaway bride in 2013.
The nature of the house is never fully explained and it is best if you simply accept it as it is: the women arrive and leave through a mysterious door; they do not show up in the same order as they lived chronologically; and only six can stay in the house at one time.
They wear the outfits they arrived in, but have matching sneakers. They have WiFi and iPads. They pass their days baking, bickering and playing a game they call Moon Ball.
The arrival of a seventh woman, Police (Isabella Chiam), unsettles their delicate equilibrium. Police, who first came to the house searching for the missing Bride (Ang Xiao Ting), has returned - this time from 2021 - to lie low after an affair with her superior.
Her reappearance upsets Student (Jodi Chan), who disappeared during the 1956 Chinese school protests and feels excluded by the house's other residents.
In a fit of pique, Student declares she will reveal the others' secrets at 9pm. By 8.30pm, however, she is found dead in her room.
To solve the mystery, viewers watch a pre-recorded segment and then interrogate two of the five suspects live.
The characters speak at least five different languages or dialects between them: Indonesian for Concubine (Suhaili Safari); Cantonese for the elderly Samsui (Ng Mun Poh); Mandarin for Star (Su Chun Ying), a faded 1980s actress with cancer, and so on.
The half-hour interrogations feel a little on the long side, especially with the characters mostly repeating denials.
Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai combines nimble improvisation and a structured pathos as Soldier, a member of the all-female Rani of Jhansi regiment in World War II, a throwback to a similar role of hers in Wild Rice's 2019 play Merdeka.
In a third part, viewers can search the house for clues. Before the recent tightened Covid-19 measures, they could have explored the set in Chinatown's Hotel Soloha in person.
This now has to be done virtually, though the production team has rallied magnificently. Each of the rooms is searchable from multiple angles and you can zoom in on a panoply of potential evidence, which will thrill escape room fans.
This richly developed production goes beyond paying lip service to the notion of digitalisation.
From the dreamy, liminal lighting of the house to the carefully choreographed tracking shots that pick up the nuances of the actors' expressions, Kuo and her team clearly know how to play to the medium's strengths.
The technical flaws one has come to expect from digital theatre, such as connection glitches or byzantine navigation, are kept to a minimum.
On top of that, the script gets in a fair bit of commentary about the forgotten roles of women in history - though this never detracts from the sheer intrigue of the mystery.
This could well be a new frontier for home-grown digital theatre. One can only hope to experience a similar mystery in hybrid form some day. When something this good knocks twice, you had better let it in.