An unexciting spin in The Car

(From left) Faizal Abdullah, Henry Heng and Julie Wee in The Car.
(From left) Faizal Abdullah, Henry Heng and Julie Wee in The Car. PHOTO: ESPLANADE – THEATRES ON THE BAY

REVIEW / THEATRE

THE CAR

Our Company

Esplanade Theatre Studio/Wednesday

Like an old engine, the cast in this original, award-winning play by Singaporean Verena Tay took a while to warm up.

As the play's protagonist Girl, actress Julie Wee did not seem entirely sure about her character's motivations. In the opening scene, for example, when Girl bumbled about the stage, packing or throwing things away, Wee recited her lines without weight or nuance.

Girl has waited too long to patch things up with her well-meaning, overbearing father Daniel. He is now long dead from cancer and Girl misses him terribly, even as his relic of a car, a Fiat Marvelette (depicted with much focus by Faizal Abdullah), sits in her garage. As father and daughter rowed constantly whenever they were in it, the car is also a very sore point for Girl.

None of the emotions that might well up from all that was evident at first, as the cast seemed more intent on enunciating their lines than inhabiting their multiple roles.

Their responses to one another became well-oiled only a third of the way through, when humour kicked in.

Wee proved to be adept at her art with her turn as an anxious-to- please Datsun car, with a spot-on Japanese accent to boot. Faizal, a natural at acting, tickled everyone whenever he morphed into Daniel's long-suffering mechanic, who was forever pressed into servicing his "magical lau pok chia" for the umpteenth time. "Lau pok chia" is Hokkien for "dilapidated car".

In a post-show chat with the audience, Wee, director Chen Yingxuan and co-producer Khoo Yingxiang said they had tried to pick Tay's brain as to how they might do justice to her semi-autobiographical play, which was first performed in 2006. But the latter instead encouraged them to give it their own spin.

That spin was tentative at best, as transitory as the white cardboard removal boxes that were stacked around the stage throughout the performance.

Director Chen seemed not to have plumbed Tay's deceptively simple script for its hidden depths, such as why parents' sacrifices for their children are often pyrrhic; why the kindly are seen as weak; and the special bond between fathers and daughters.

"Less is more" was the crew's dictum too, which worked whenever they portrayed the car and its roving all over Singapore and Malaysia through sounds such as doors slamming and pistons revving up, matching Faizal's gestures.

Otherwise, their efforts were a shabby foil to an enjoyable but unexciting evening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2017, with the headline 'An unexciting spin in The Car'. Print Edition | Subscribe