SINGAPORE - To have three actors play one character onstage simultaneously is a bold move, one that paid off in this re-imagination of the 19th-century play Miss Julie, written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg.
A collaboration between Singapore Mandarin theatre company Nine Years Theatre and the Macau Arts Festival, and performed at the KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT on Saturday (May 19), this new work P****d Julie features a storyline that does not deviate much from the original.
The main character, Julie, is the daughter of a powerful count. She is in an illicit romantic relationship with Jean, her father's servant. Also working in the house is Christine, another servant.
In this new work, performed in Mandarin and Cantonese, Julie is played by local actresses Mia Chee and Jean Toh, as well as Macau actress Kate Leong, all dressed in identical costumes, taking turns to deliver the character's lines.
Similarly, Jean is played by actors Hang Qian Chou and Timothy Wan from Singapore, and Leong Fan Kai from Macau, while Christine is portrayed by Singaporean Neo Hai Bin, as well as Flora Ho and Mandy Cheang from Macau.
This three-actors-per-character approach allowed director Nelson Chia to present different sides and psychological outcomes of the characters.
For example, in a scene where Jean commits a violent act, one actor performs the act, while another averts his eyes in revulsion, and the third stands stoically in the face of brutality.
These diverse reactions present new dimensions to, and possible interpretations of, Jean as cruel assailant, self-loathing repenter or a victim of circumstance just struggling to stay strong.
Such visually arresting tableaus are not often seen in the theatre. At times, I felt as if I was watching a film.
The approach also allowed for an ironic, ambiguous take on themes such as power and identity, suggesting how complex such issues can be.
The production's innovative set design, with tilted tables, chairs and slanted doorways, beautifully expressed its seeming obsession with levels - the balance of power between rich and poor, man and woman, and what is seen as morally superior versus what is base.
Reinforced with several discordant pieces of waltz music, this created an otherworldly, almost dream-like setting which gets darker and more twisted as the play progresses.
If the mingling of identity and human desire was already complicated in the classic Miss Julie, it gets even more complex in this new multi-layered work.
BOOK IT/P****D JULIE
WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT, 20 Merbau Road
WHEN: May 20, 3pm
ADMISSION: $38 to $58 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)