Calculated sleeper hit

Put on by Teater Kami, 28.8 starred Farhana M. Noor and Al-Matin Yatim (both above).
Put on by Teater Kami, 28.8 starred Farhana M. Noor and Al-Matin Yatim (both above).PHOTO: TEATER KAMI

Adib Kosnan's deft direction of his play, about a couple coping with differing attitudes towards money, is pure gold



Teater Kami

Aliwal Arts Centre/Last Friday

In a tale as old as money, a tightwad marries a spendthrift.

Stand back and watch the fur fly as the spendthrift, who has a loose tongue to match, continues chalking up huge debts for the tightwad to pay. As personable as these spouses are, they hurtle towards hopelessness.

The play's title, 28.8, refers to Aug 28, 2015 - the date of their wedding. Aug 28 was also when Nerissa's now-divorced parents wed. And 28.8 is the interest rate at which her credit card debts are mounting.

Could Farhana M. Noor, as the profligate wife, and Al-Matin Yatim, as Andy the long-suffering scrimper, spin gold from such a tired thread?

Could they ever. Al-Matin is a bright star in Singapore theatre, but this evening, Farhana proved to be his equal.

She fleshed out fully the status- conscious, second-guessing Nerissa, nailing every tic and gesture of a complex character.

Winsome Nerissa is a working girl who tries hard to see life her husband's way, but still thinks nothing of making him buy a car, a flat and a $21 sandwich that even she admits would cost peanuts to make.

As sensible, ambitious Andy, Al-Matin was a generous foil to Farhana, often allowing her to swallow up the stage before he arrested the audience's consciousness again with his ever-compelling presence.

The test of how natural both of them could be was whenever they had to sit apart and stare straight into the audience while they performed their lines as a shy courting couple and then as bank customers seeking a loan. They sailed through with flying colours, demonstrating spot-on the thrust-and-parry of incompatible couples.

They even honoured the five- second rule, that is, that one should count to five whenever listening to a response from someone unseen, such as over the telephone.

Their overarching tenderness towards each other amid their feuding lulled many in the audience into believing that they were indeed spouses.

In real life, Al-Matin is married with an infant daughter while Farhana is single. So the scene in which an overworked Andy berates a pregnant Nerissa for ending her credit card diet by visiting a private clinic cuts right to the bone, when she reveals that she did so to try and save their baby.

With his clean, tight and deft direction, playwright and director Adib Kosnan seemed to know instinctively just when to dwell on his script and when to let it breathe.

Such mastery and trust in his cast made this bare-bones production, which was performed in English and Malay, one of the sleeper hits of this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Calculated sleeper hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe