Solo voices in spotlight

Bharatanatyam dancer Ruby Jayaseelan works with sound artist Bani Haykal (both above) in gameperformance piece, Nombor- Nombor Darahku, part of Teater Ekamatra's Projek Suitcase.
Bharatanatyam dancer Ruby Jayaseelan works with sound artist Bani Haykal (both above) in gameperformance piece, Nombor- Nombor Darahku, part of Teater Ekamatra's Projek Suitcase.PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

Local acts embrace monologues with Teater Ekamatra's Projek Suitcase plus an independent staging of Mandarin work My Mother's Chest

Monologues are consuming, intimate and considered rare in Singapore theatre. This week, however, boasts a number of one-performer shows.

From Thursday to Sunday at the Drama Centre Black Box, actress Audrey Luo makes her monologue debut with playwright Ng Sin Yue's My Mother's Chest. The Mandarin piece written in 1992 uncovers the relationship between a woman and her stepmother. It is directed by theatre veteran Jeffrey Low and produced by freelance stage manager Stanley Ng.

Low, 42, who is also a presenter with current affairs television show Hello, Singapore, says that there could be more Mandarin monologues staged locally. He thinks they are a good platform for actors to sharpen their technique.

Luo, 33, agrees. She is more used to being part of ensemble productions such as the epic historical drama Kumarajiva, staged this year, or next year's Tropicana, based on the topless cabaret of the same name. The monologue is a new challenge because the setting is more intimate "and you would not want to be exaggerated when it comes to emotions".

From tomorrow to Sunday at Aliwal Arts Centre, Teater Ekamatra hosts a mini-festival of monologues, Projek Suitcase. The idea is theatre involving one actor and props that can fit into a suitcase.

  • BOOK IT / MY MOTHER'S CHEST

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, 05-01 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: 8pm, Thursday to Saturday; 3pm, Saturday and Sunday

    TICKETS: $35, e-mail tickets.mmdxz@gmail.com

    INFO: www.mmdxz.weebly.com (Thursday show sold out)

    PROJEK SUITCASE: METAMORPHOSIS

    WHERE: Aliwal Arts Centre, 28 Aliwal Street

    WHEN: 7.30pm , tomorrow to Sunday

    TICKETS: $36 (one-day ticket), $52 (two-day ticket), projeksuitcase.com

Projek Suitcase debuted in 2003 and was held at sporadic intervals. Last year, Teater Ekamatra's artistic director Mohd Fared Jainal decided to make it an annual affair.

The format includes eight monologues mostly in Malay, 20 minutes each. All eight are performed each night, with two monologues running in parallel at any time. Viewers who want to catch all the shows have to attend twice.

Last year had works from Aidli 'Alin' Mosbit as well as M. Saffri A. Manaf. This year, the theme of "metamorphosis" emphasises new work, devised through unexpected collaborations.

Fared, 43, says: "If last year was about celebrating Malay theatre, this year I wanted to be very inclusive. If you talk about 'Malay', it's not just the colour of the skin. It's also about people who understand Malay, who are married to Malays."

The 16 artists he paired off include drama veteran Elvira Holmberg, who works with actress Emanorwatty Saleh in Cabut, about running away. Richard Tan, known for Peranakan-themed dramas such as Bibiks Behind Bars (2001), works with actor Erwin Shah Ismail on a play about leather crafting, Kulit.

Film-maker Eric Lee and actor Rizman Putra present By The Book, about a rehearsal gone wrong. Actress Shida Mahadi works with independent collective The Art Of Strangers in #IstillwantmyPR.

Malay television personalities Keater H. M. and Rafaat Haji Hamzah present the mysterious 370, and actor Izzat Yusoff joins YouTube star Hirzi Zulkiflie in Jumping The Q, a play about suicide.

Bharatanatyam dancer Ruby Jayaseelan joins forces with sound artist Bani Haykal in Nombor-Nombor Darahku, a game-performance where the audience helps to shape the show.

Actor Ebi Shankara, a rising star of Tamil and English theatre, was fascinated to learn that his partner in this project, actor Al-Matin Yatim, did not experience racism until he was a teenager. Al-Matin attended a madrasah and rarely ventured outside the Malay community. In contrast, Ebi has always been made aware of his identity as a minority.

The result of their dialogue was Gli-mmer/tter, a piece about fitting in with society, directed by Ebi.

Al-Matin has to double as scriptwriter, transforming an initially all-English storyboard into a work of Malay theatre.

Both find the work invigorating. Ebi, 28, a veteran of bigger-budget shows such as this year's Ghost Writer from The Necessary Stage, says Projek Suitcase's no-frills format is liberating.

"Reducing space, making it 'poor man's theatre' allows us not to be worried about commercialisation," he says. "We only focus on the art and what we want to put out."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Solo voices in spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe