REVIEW / THEATRE
A DREAM UNDER THE SOUTHERN BOUGH - THE BEGINNING
Singapore International Festival of Arts/ School of the Arts Studio Theatre/ Monday
Evocative and atmospheric, this 70-minute play by Toy Factory Productions takes audiences on a fantastically imaginative journey through one man's dream.
Performed in Mandarin, the show is a modern adaptation of a 16th-century epic Kun opera play, A Dream Under The Southern Bough. The opera was written by revered Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu, renowned for works in which dreams feature prominently, such as his most famous play, The Peony Pavilion.
This production is the first of a trilogy, with the next two parts - Reverie and Existence - slated to be staged in the coming years.
In this first instalment, the main character is a disgraced naval officer played by actor Tang Shao Wei and the focus is on his intoxicated dreamland escapades while slumbering under an old sophora tree.
That is a pretty simple concept until the adventures start to defy logic - as dreams often do - as he discovers a mighty ant kingdom.
Like Alice in Wonderland, he meets bizarre characters who speak in riddles and make befuddling references.
Sunglasses, virtual-reality games and a smartwatch also make an appearance onstage, juxtaposed with the archaic language spoken by the characters, creating a surreal mish-mash of past and present, dream and reality.
But in all this ludicrousness, there is a languid ease to the officer's situation. The play's overall tone is also that of a lulling sense of calm.
Tang presents his character as a likeable everyman who merely drifts along in a complex world. As he avoids facing the troubles in his life, there is the sense that sleeping is somehow preferable to being awake.
In the programme booklet, director Goh Boon Teck writes about the mass-produced drama serials and commercials on television and the superficial portrayals of real life on social media. He asks: "Can this dream give city dwellers clarity and direction?"
Maybe. A dream might not make sense and might be downright confusing. But it can provide a comforting reprieve from a disappointing and grim reality.