Pointless patchwork at play

Lone Journeys' (from far left) Alvin Koh, Akiko Otao and Kailin Yong.
Lone Journeys' (from far left) Alvin Koh, Akiko Otao and Kailin Yong.PHOTO: BENJAMIN AW



InSource Theatre

Centre 42 Black Box/Last Friday

Lone Journeys is an inadvertent jigsaw puzzle. During the hour-long show, every member of the audience is denied one more essential piece needed to appreciate the full picture. This is frustrating because the visible pieces are intriguing.

To celebrate InSource Theatre's 15th anniversary, founder Beverly Yuen and artistic director Jacklyn Kuah - also the director of Lone Journeys - conceived a story about three people who each thinks he is alone in a world populated only by machines. They discover one another and find a way out of the rat trap.

Actress-playwright Ellison Tan turns the concept into text and the action is devised and performed by violinist Kailin Yong and singers Akiko Otao and Alvin Koh. It is a star-studded list of creators, but their light is blocked by the rules of physics.

Multimedia, voiceovers and shadow puppetry are deployed to create the characters' isolation in a computerised world. Unfortunately, the set is designed to ensure these deployments fail a third of the audience at any one point.

The stage is a large white cross on the floor of the Black Box at Centre 42 in Waterloo Street. Viewers choose to sit in one of four corners of the quadrilateral. The focal point is a tower of carved cardboard boxes with light fixtures that glow to cast meaningful shadows and patterns at different points in time.

However, as Otao moves a puppet to cast the shadow of a prince walking and transforming into the seated Buddha, the meaning is lost to half the audience. A quarter cannot see the shadow play projected on the curtain at a near angle, another quarter have its view blocked by the central tower of boxes.

Similarly, multimedia text is projected meaninglessly onto the floor around the tower. Yong's character demands to play his beloved violin, but is told by an increasingly stern machine text that it is unnecessary for his work. The content is funny, relevant and unreadable to at least half the audience.

A voiceover reading the texts would have solved this problem, as would elevating the seats. The latter solution would also have made the climax visible to the entire audience.

In the current staging, which ended its run yesterday, any non-verbal action plays out incomprehensibly to viewers who cannot crane to see around the tower. The performers try to work around this by constantly shifting around the tower, but the final, non-verbal scene is distressingly meaningless to many.

Viewing Lone Journeys is like seeing the parts of some broken machinery. The pieces have fascinating shapes, but the whole would have had more utility.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Pointless patchwork at play'. Print Edition | Subscribe