Theatre review: Tasty slices of storytelling in Decimal Points: First Station

Review Theatre


Cake Theatrical Productions/The Substation/Thursday

If Cake Theatrical Productions were a number, it would be pi.

It is a number both irrational and transcendental, and the randomness of its digits never end.

This is especially true of Decimal Points: First Station, an experiential and experimental quintet of installation and performance works scattered across the various floors and rooms of The Substation.

First Station is a culmination of two years of work by Cake's associate artists: multimedia artist and film-maker Brian Gothong Tan, composer and sound designer Philip Tan, designer David Lee, multi-disciplinary performance artist Rizman Putra and design collective Neon Tights.

The artists were each given a platform to explore and create their own work and present it to the public.

Some of the previous Decimal Points outings worked marvellously, some showed flashes of potential and several were conceptually rich but, unfortunately, got lost in translation from idea to stage.

In First Station, however, these artists have collectively created an immersive experience that is both messy and joyful, despite its share of hiccups and overindulgent tangents along the way.

I experienced three works in the span of an evening - two performances directed by Brian Gothong Tan and Philip Tan, and a dizzying bathroom installation by Neon Tights involving a generous dose of neon lighting.

It was a bit of a hectic voyage and other audience members might get to pace themselves a little better by choosing which production they would like to watch over a span of two days.

These acts were preceded by a brassy and infectiously funny introduction hosted by Cake's artistic director Natalie Hennedige that will, sadly, never be repeated.

Hennedige has rarely taken to the stage in the past few years, so it was a treat to see her swaddled in a figure-hugging scarlet number, a chestnut wig and towering leopard-print heels.

What followed were some intimate exchanges between artists that revealed a little more about their processes and inspirations, their hopes and dreams.

Brian Gothong Tan's sequel to his well-received Decimal Points production, 4.44, continues with its play on fiction and reality.

This time, it singles out the path of storytelling and how it links the minuscule with the cosmic.

Actresses Jo Kukathas and Karen Tan inhabit oddball alter egos (Jo Koothrappali and Karen Tang respectively) as they wax philosophical about the stories each individual has to tell.

From YouTube to Facebook, from personal histories to national narratives, they dance ambitiously around the concept of the root of all stories - the story of transformation.

There will be plenty of in-jokes for the theatre crowd, including some stellar impressions of well-known Singaporean directors.

But these might not always go down well with other theatregoers less familiar with these personalities.

The 40-minute 4.44 v. 2 sometimes feels a little too much like a fragmented academic essay that has been adapted for the stage, with its meandering expository paragraphs on the nature of the story.

But the banter between the two charismatic actresses is magnetic, including a wickedly funny argument about the nature of Facebook status updates.

And there are plenty of quirky anecdotes to keep the rhythm going, including re-enactments of scenes from Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) and the seminal 1951 film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Upstairs, in Philip Tan's sonic world, actors Sean Tobin and Edith Podesta interact across two different rooms - separated by a locked door - as their characters, Eric and Jill, interrogate a doomed relationship and the trauma that comes in the wake of the death of their child.

It is an intriguing gimmick and the wall that separates the two lovers is tantalisingly enigmatic; we can see one but only hear the other through a clever sound set-up, a witty metaphor for the hidden layers of any relationship.

Philip Tan's soundscapes are lush and enveloping, but what starts out as a simple, moving story, however, gets bogged down in layers of fractured storytelling and repetition.

At the end of the day, First Station is a celebration of trials and errors, of the paths less taken on the stage. And it has produced a bumper crop of daring experiments and collaborations that otherwise may never have come into being.

You may not always get the piece of pie you expect but somehow, Cake's bold flavours always tickle the palate.