Driving into a dead end

Experimental theatre piece Einstein In The Carpark took place in the stuffy Esplanade Basement 2 carpark.
Experimental theatre piece Einstein In The Carpark took place in the stuffy Esplanade Basement 2 carpark.ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

REVIEW / THEATRE

HUAYI 2018: EINSTEIN IN THE CARPARK

Emergency Stairs

Esplanade B2 Carpark/Thursday


Einstein In The Carpark, Huayi - Chinese Festival of Arts' first site-specific theatre production, is certainly one of the more experimental and challenging works out there.

There is no narrative and the audience is allowed to walk around the stuffy Esplanade basement two carpark for the show's one-hour-and-40-minute duration.

While this show allowed the audience to have some new experiences, it was disappointing in that it did not deliver on this potential.

  • BOOK IT / HUAYI 2018: EINSTEIN IN THE CARPARK

  • WHERE: Esplanade Basement 2 Carpark, 1 Esplanade Drive (meet at the carpark foyer 15 minutes before the show)

    WHEN: Today, 4 and 8pm; tomorrow, 4pm

    ADMISSION: $38 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

It left theatregoers wandering around the carpark at times, with puzzled, awkward looks unsure about what was happening and whether the show was still going on.

I certainly did not find the late German-born physicist that the show is named for. Neither did I get much insight into his work and theories or any deeper appreciation of carparks.

The carpark was likely chosen as the performance space because the show's director Liu Xiaoyi walked into it last year and found it to be "immensely oppressive", yet "intensely lonesome", according to the show's programme.

It also noted that Singapore's first underground carpark was opened in November 1965, the 10th anniversary of Einstein's death.

Despite these links between the subject material and the venue, there were so many other ideas thrown into the mix that nothing coherent followed.

No doubt, some of the ideas presented were interesting. The East-meets-West theme was voiced through two actors playing versions of themselves - Zhang Jun, a professional performer of kunqu, a style of Chinese operatic singing and drama; and George Chan, who is trained in Western musicals.

Through their meeting and interactions - at one point even rehearsing certain moves together - it was possible to see parallels and similarities in the art forms they represent.

But for all the seeming intercultural dialogue, perhaps there was also an unbridgeable chasm between the two characters and the worlds they came from.

This seemed the case in one segment, when the two characters sat in a car and had an increasingly heated conversation, which inescapably broke down into a moment of frustrated non-communication.

Another idea was that of scientific curiosity, as Einstein is known for developing the theory of relativity, one of the most famous scientific theories of the 20th century.

The various objects in the carpark - traffic cones and LED headphones which the audience could interact with - seemed to hint at the possibility of, and even encourage, such inquiry.

While these interactive elements were fresh, the novelty value rapidly wore out after audience members tried them out for a minute and finished taking their photos.

More successful site-specific works often offer a more unified message, or at least an experience that does not get old so quickly.

With more development, perhaps a future version might be able to give audiences that magical "Eureka".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2018, with the headline 'Driving into a dead end'. Print Edition | Subscribe