M1 Singapore Fringe Festival
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre/Jan 20
Through a madcap medley of animal mimicry, Catherine "Cat" Kidd brings out the best and worst of the beasts within humanity.
Lions are linked to illegal migrant workers slinking across borders to cross the poverty line.
Elephants symbolise both the tragedy of a lonely teenager separated from the herd - and her best friend - as well as the heavy-handed psychiatrist who tramples uncaringly over her life.
The hyena of the title, a gender-switching witchy beast both revered and reviled in African folklore, is a metaphor for those on the fringes of society: the mad, the homeless, the women who refuse to conform to norms.
Montreal-based Kidd is a riveting storyteller, or as she prefers, "writer-performer". She renders Hyena Subpoena with the rhythms of rap and spoken-word poetry, with growls and snarls as the inner hyena emerges, or long-limbed leaps across the stage as antelope flee predators. As she wraps a flexible tent around herself or straps on antlers and helmet, the audience is enveloped in the story, primed for outrage, despair or laughter at her command.
A few times, her enthusiasm causes her to trip over her words but this is swallowed by the machine-gun relentlessness of the text. It becomes obvious why this was shortlisted for multiple poetry awards in Canada. Launched in 2014 as Hyena Subpoena: 7 Poems With Soundscapes, both book and CD recording are available for sale at the door of the performance and via catkidd.com.
Written by Kidd and directed by Paul van Dyck, Hyena Subpoena is dazzling but also disjointed at first encounter. The second sketch is so obviously drawn from Kidd's real life that it confuses viewers sinking into the story of fictional Mona Morse, who has fled human civilisation for the call of the wild. It might have helped to use the original title the team suggested in the post-show talk, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Hyena. Or perhaps the sketch and its apology for scavenging off another culture should have been shifted to another part of the performance.
Props are perfect for a travelling show about living rough. A few branches and sticks of wood to mimic a campfire. A stick of chalk, a fur vest, a plastic hairbrush and other things that fit into a camping cooler. The problem is their place on the stage. The design of the Gallery Theatre ensures that any objects close to the front row are invisible to viewers in rows four and above. Several parts of Kidd's sketches are irritatingly obscured.
The performance includes beats and music - atmospheric soundscapes - by dj Jacky Murda, video by Geoff Agombar and lighting design by Jody Burkholder. At first, multiple media set the mood. The music underscores the beat of the vocals. Lighting resembles, or is, a camping torch held by the actor and shone on her face. Footage of hyenas in the wild is projected on the theatre screen and also on the camping tent which Kidd uses as home and costume.
By the third sketch, however, Kidd ends up dazzling despite the multimedia instead of because of it. The footage drags attention away from the rightful focus of the show. When the actor speaks gently to a tiny plastic elephant in her hands, who can spare a glance for the pachyderms projected on the screen?
Towards the end, when the music dies away and the video disappears, we are left with Kidd - or Mona - waving bare branches in an ecstatic imitation of flight, seeking freedom through her art. It is then that the production soars, that her story lends wings to our own imagination. Getting back to the basics works best for a performance that is about primal instincts.
Book it/HYENA SUBPOENA
Where: Gallery Theatre, Basement, National Museum of Singapore
When: Jan 21, 8pm
Admission: $22 from Sistic (sistic.com.sg, 6348-5555)