Theatre review: Catamite is an object lesson in history at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Catamite is an extension of multi-disciplinary artist Loo Zihan's 2016 installation, Queer Objects: An Archive For The Future.
Catamite is an extension of multi-disciplinary artist Loo Zihan's 2016 installation, Queer Objects: An Archive For The Future.PHOTO: SAMANTHA TIO

CATAMITE (R18)

Loo Zihan/M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Black Box, Centre 42/Jan 25


Traditional theatre delivers a narrative to the audience.

In Catamite, each member of the audience co-creates his or her own narrative with multi-disciplinary artist Loo Zihan, in a lecture-performance that plays out much like a theory of knowledge class conducted by a quirky teacher.

The work, which ended its run on Jan 27, sees Loo employ similar methods to those used in I Am LGB, an interactive performance for the 2016 Singapore International Festival Of Arts, which he developed with other artists under the collective The LGB Society Of Mind.

I Am LGB had participants carrying out seemingly useless and quirky tasks to symbolise the hyper-competitive school system in Singapore, and also point out the restrictions of this system versus the freedom provided by the once-proscribed genre of performance art.

Catamite, too, is much like a lecture or class in that participants get what they are willing to put into the experience. Loo guides around 20 people at a time asking them to reflect on what their possessions say about identity. From telling stories about a chosen object - keys, a pair of headphones or, in this reviewer's case, a book from a bookstore that closed down years ago - participants are led to consider the veracity and impact of artefacts and stories that are handed down from the past.

The work is meant to stimulate individual introspection, rather than plead any particular cause, even though Catamite introduces the first criminal case of homosexuality tried in Singapore, and takes its title from an old-fashioned term for a young, male homosexual lover. The word is no longer in common usage and this work for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival explores temporality and the temporary nature of things.

Catamite is an extension of Loo's 2016 installation, Queer Objects: An Archive For The Future, in which objects ranging from glowsticks to perfume bottles were arranged to depict the contents of a time capsule unearthed in a future where gay sex is no longer a crime in Singapore.

He feels the installation was overshadowed by the controversy over the removal of two sex objects from the collection - rather than considering the archive as a whole, people discussed the absent objects.

By getting audiences to create a temporary archive of their own objects, Loo creates a new kind of "queer archive". Archives are considered permanent records, but this one is defined by its short-lived nature.

Among the still extant artefacts considered in Catamite is the impact of British colonial rule on Singapore.

Volunteers enact the separate trials of a British officer and a Malay man for homosexuality, held just before the outbreak of World War II, and it becomes clear that ethnicity affected the severity of the judgements handed out. The Malay man was immediately convicted, the British officer granted the benefit of the doubt.

What other forms of bigotry linger in legal systems and attitudes today? The two-hour time is too short for the audience to fully explore this question, leaving this reviewer with a vague sense of dissatisfaction and curiosity - which is probably what Loo intended all along.