Playing on old themes

The stripped-down and reconstructed Si Ti Kay balances on the edge of taboo and thrills, resulting in tame performance art

Actress Siti Z in Si Ti Kay. Watching it is like watching children in a playground, with not much meaning made of their antics.
Actress Siti Z in Si Ti Kay. Watching it is like watching children in a playground, with not much meaning made of their antics.PHOTO: SHAWN BYRON DANKER



Akulah Bimbo Sakti

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Black Box, Centre 42/Wednesday

In a playground provided by Singapore's best known fringe festival, three performers monkey around.

Stripped to white briefs and hints of red lingerie, John Cheah and M. Haja masticate mouthfuls of rice in deliberately provocative postures.

Next to them, a triangle of boiled beef is suspended over a bowl of milk. It is held steady through the animalistic fervour of actress Siti Z pulling at a rope. Her teeth are bared by a muzzle similar to those worn by her co-stars.

Siti's white lace and red stockings, the men in bras, the headgear borrowed from bondage sex play, the meat in danger of mixing with milk: There are taboos aplenty for the audience to spot as a transistor radio plays an incongruously sprightly tune (media by Wu Jun Han).

Si Ti Kay is the house that director Noor Effendy Ibrahim built, first in 2012 for Cake Theatrical Productions.

That staging at the Esplanade Studio Black Box had space for four actors performing scenes of sado- masochistic domestic bliss, which included bathing one in a bathtub of milk.

This Si Ti Kay is stripped down and reconstructed to fit the smaller space at Centre 42. Missing are the frills that gave extra thrills in 2012, such as a house attached to the director's back via pulleys - he moved and the domestic drama was fully visible.

Three players make for an unbalanced staging. Cheah and M. Haja form a visible partnership, feeding each other or wrestling in pseudo- sexual paroxysms.

Siti Z is mostly their "victim", dragged around, carried, milk poured on her. It is a distasteful reminder of how often women are the victims of domestic abuse, yet it is not potent enough to evoke a visceral reaction from the viewer.

Si Ti Kay teeters on the edge of taboo, but never quite shocks or thrills. The action is predictable. Milk is in a glass, it will be poured on someone. Meat is suspended from a hook, it will be used in a groan- inducing visual pun - Siti spanks Cheah's bare buttocks with it.

The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is a place for artists to have fun and this they certainly do.

For viewers new to fringe events, Si Ti Kay is a good introduction. For viewers familiar with the vocabulary of theatre-makers, watching this Si Ti Kay is like watching children enjoy a playground and noting that more could have been done to make meaning out of their antics.

In a small space with only three performers, media works to change the mood and draw the audience into the playground of the performers. More needs to be done with lights (Mohamed Fita Helmi) to enhance the effect. Playing with shadows and coloured lights might help.

Touch and the praiseworthy physicality of the actors are other underused resources. Only occasionally do the men make balletic art out of one another's bodies.

Siti's determination to not drop the meat is frighteningly endearing, but her body is otherwise underutilised.

There are times when the male actors touch tenderly and then aggressively, in another visual metaphor for the ways in which people control one another.

Not all power is harnessed or directed through violence. In its next avatar, Si Ti Kay could emphasise such disturbing points.

•Si Ti Kay is sold out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Playing on old themes'. Subscribe