Dissident artist Lin Bo, a fugitive from China, has arrived in Singapore and is now an artist-inresidence at a gallery in River Valley. Or so the audience is told in the Singapore Repertory Theatre's (SRT) clever staging of Caught, an exploration of art, truth and cultural appropriation.
The award-winning play by San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen made its world premiere in 2014 and, under the direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar here, much of the action takes place at Miaja Gallery and Miaja Art Collections - which occupy two levels of APS Building and have curated a new exhibition to complement the show.
The experience is meant to be immersive - audience members move around and interact with one another. Iskandar has also roped in 10 "hosts" - wearing red scarves - who weave in and out of the crowd throughout the evening, attending to the audience's needs and discussing the play with them.
Caught ostensibly begins with a speech by Lin, who talks about protest art and his experiences in a Chinese detention centre.
During subsequent scenes, the audience encounters New Yorker writers, a curator and another dissident artist, Wang Min. But are they all who they say they are?
Truth and art are major themes in the play, which makes allusions to China's 798 art district and Mike Daisey's The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs, a one-man show that sparked controversy because of its dramatic embellishments of the truth.
Caught is well executed, with solid performances by Timothy Nga (who plays Lin), Serene Chen (Wang), William Landsman (an editor) and Chelsea Curto (a journalist and gallery curator).
REVIEW / THEATRE
Singapore Repertory Theatre
Miaja Gallery/Last Friday
As the action unfolds, a bold, eclectic array of East-meets-West artworks on display glance knowingly from the walls, part of the ongoing Dissonance exhibition.
I spy a trio of mixed media canvases by South Korean artist Soonik Kwon, from a series titled Pile Up & Rub - Chink.
BOOK IT /CAUGHT
WHERE: Miaja Gallery, APS Building, 9 Muthuraman Chetty Road
WHEN: Till Oct 6; 7.15pm (weekdays and Saturdays), 3.15pm (Saturdays); 2.15 and 6.15pm (Sundays). There will be an audio-described performance on Saturday (Sept 21) at 3.15pm and a signed performance on Sunday (Sept 22) at 2.15pm
It is a play that repeatedly pulls the rug out from under the audience as they progress from one level of falsehoods to another. It raises more questions than answers: How do we draw the line between truth and fiction? Can a Chinese person appropriate Chinese culture?
Audience members with an eye for detail or an ear for the cadences of speech will realise early on that some things just do not add up. The play and its paratexts - from the e-mail that arrives in your inbox before the show to the physical programme you get before you leave - are riddled with clues.
This show is for those game for an immersive experience that will suspend them in a state of questioning.
So effective is it at upending the audience's perceptions of reality that last Friday, some people even asked if the art in the gallery was "real" - whatever "real art" means.
For others, the three-hour experience might feel too long, too cerebral. And on the review night, there were certainly times when the space felt uncomfortably crowded.
Even so, Caught is a thoughtful, refreshing addition to the SRT's programming and the existing landscape of immersive works in Singapore.