Blurred lines between virtual and real



The Necessary Stage & Hanchu-Yuei

The Necessary Stage Black Box/ Thursday

Watching this dense, tight work from The Necessary Stage (TNS) and Japanese troupe Hanchu-Yuei is akin to rapidly surfing social media at midnight.

Eight-bit graphics, an energetic cast and quick repartee in English and Japanese ensure one is educated, entertained and also overwhelmed by the sights and sounds.

Too much happens to keep up in this weird, wired, wondrous world of talking cats, lovelorn androids and online ghosts.

The 65-minute runtime is too short to explore or resolve all these stories and, unfortunately, viewers cannot log in again a little later to find out more.

That might even be the point of this collaboration helmed by Japanese writer-director Suguru Yamamoto with TNS' Haresh Sharma (script) and Alvin Tan (direction).

Sanctuary is a near-future social media experience which is part-Facebook, part-YouTube and part-MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game). Half the world logs in regularly, preferring to live through digital selves rather than their real bodies.

To users, Sanctuary offers freedom and affirmation through likes and followers. However, user preferences and habits are being recorded and the data sold or used for profit - just like today, with social media platforms.


  • WHERE: The Necessary Stage Black Box, 278 Marine Parade Road

    WHEN: Run nearly sold out, limited seats available for Nov 9, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $36 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

In a disconcertingly believable step forward from today, seeking to connect with Sanctuary users in their real bodies is forbidden. This is probably because companies like a captive audience for their advertisements.

The play makes efficient use of sound and multimedia to create a believable virtual world. Bani Haykal's sound is an unobtrusive presence until he breaks into song, reminding viewers of the many overlooked influences shaping their experiences online and offline.

Actors introduce themselves in a rectangular frame meant to evoke the screen of a smartphone or laptop (set designer Vincent Lim, art designer Kazuki Takakura). The cast blurs the line between digital life and reality by moving out of the frame, wandering around the stage and developing "shadows", which are the selves a user does not present online for recording.

The idea intrigues and could have been further developed. So, too, could Ellison Tan Yuyang's character, a woman chained to the digital ghost of her dead mother (Audrey Luo) and unable to face life in reality.

Leaving viewers wanting more is a good way to round off TNS' 30th anniversary season.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline Blurred lines between virtual and real. Subscribe