Fun theatre acts at the Esplanade's Flipside festival carry more serious messages

Now into its 16th edition, this festival has developed its own brand as it focuses on alternative genres of theatre which appeal to both young and old. PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

SINGAPORE - Circus and puppetry take over the Esplanade for its Flipside festival from May 29 to June 7.

Now into its 16th edition, this festival, which began in 2004 as a complement to the Singapore International Festival of Arts, has developed its own brand as it focuses on alternative genres of theatre which appeal to both young and old.

Esplanade producer Shireen Abdullah, who is in her 40s, says the festival's mix of physical and visual theatre, puppetry, circus and comedy caters not just to families and kids.

"Young families are spoilt for choice during the June holidays, but adults, less so. We want to include adults who are searching for fun and innovative performances, but who also wish to engage with the issues in the work presented."

There are four ticketed shows in the main programme line-up, which smuggle serious issues under the cover of riotous fun.

Multi-disciplinary artist Kulu Orr will offer a mad juggling act in Control Freak as he plays live music while performing circus acts and editing live video at the same time. Expect to be hauled up to help when you attend this show.

New Zealand-born and Helsinki-based performer Thom Monckton's Only Bones is a skeletal counterpoint to Control Freak. His work, created with New Zealand's Gemma Tweedie and Finland's Kallo Collective, showcases his incredible physicality on a tiny stage lit with a single lightbulb.

Only Bones won the Best in Physical Theatre award at the NZ Fringe 2015 and has played to sold-out houses in the Avignon and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals 2016.

Canada's The Old Trout Puppet Workshop will stage its acclaimed Famous Puppet Death Scenes. The production presents what its creators call "an unrelenting massacre of little people" for the audience's gory amusement.

This show comes with an advisory 16 for "mature content, including depictions of puppet nudity and violence", although admission will be for ages 13 and up.

For a more contemplative puppet show, go for Brooklyn-based puppeteer Nick Lehane's Chimpanzee. This work tells the story of a lonely old female primate who grew up with a human family before being shipped off to a laboratory.

This show comes with an advisory 16 for "mature content, including depictions of puppet nudity and violence". PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

The range of performances is a chance for Singaporean audiences to see the possibilities of these art forms, which are usually relegated to fringe or children's theatre presentations.

Ms Shireen adds: "With the festival, we hope to offer a taste of this diversity in the choices we make each year and, at the same time, clear certain misconceptions such as puppetry is just for children, or that circus comes only in certain forms and is purely for entertainment.

"Audiences generally find it easy to connect with these art forms, so they serve as great entry points to conversation about an issue or the art itself."

The festival has also been helping the budding circus scene in Singapore, with programmes such as Flipside Scratch Night, an open-mic platform, and Aerial Open Stage, showcasing aerial art forms, which offer home-grown practitioners a platform to reach audiences.

Details of these programmes, which are free, will be released at a later date.

Ms Shireen says: "For many of the practitioners in these art forms, opportunities to develop new work and to scale up on performance formats are hard to come by.

"For the circus community, being able to watch and interact with some of the best circus artists internationally and in the region at the festival has also been inspiring."


when: May 29 to June 7

where: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Dr, Singapore 038981

admission: $35 for theatre shows


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