Too many hats spoil the plot

Pavan J. Singh is scriptwriter, director, set designer and performer in the monologue Refuge.
Pavan J. Singh is scriptwriter, director, set designer and performer in the monologue Refuge.PHOTO: LEE XIU WEN


The Skinny Collective

Black Box Theatre, Goodman Arts Centre/ Wednesday

Refuge is a moving monologue about the plight of displaced persons, but it also moves too fast to achieve its full potential.

Actor Pavan J. Singh delivers his lines at such breakneck speed that plot threads are lost, words are swallowed and lines tripped over.

The audience finds little space to enter the world created by the performer. Only when Singh - also the director - lets himself slow down, can viewers appreciate the love, levity and horror that make this story poignant and memorable.

The high notes include a scene where Braham teaches a member of the audience the childhood game he taught his son, creating a comfortable intimacy.

In another, an old friend in need of money has Braham in a vulnerable position. Tension builds between both men slowly and effectively in the pauses the performer takes between lines. In such scenes, pacing is controlled, not rushed. The audience can relax and forge connections with the character.

A large cast describes Braham's idyllic life before conflict destroyed his world and set him adrift on uncaring seas. Unfortunately, the actor moves between characters so quickly that he sometimes forgets which hat he is wearing - literally. A skullcap and he is Braham's fussy father. A baseball cap means he is Braham's old friend, a fedora is worn by the oily agent who promises Braham and his family a new life in another country. The idea of exchanging headgear is good, the execution needs more finesse.

Singh is scriptwriter, director, set designer and performer for this play, put on by The Skinny Collective, the theatrical arm of Skinned Knee Productions.

Balancing so many roles is difficult. Another directorial eye might have made him slow down. Another set designer might have suggested fewer hats and that he carry the suitcases placed on stage.

Sound and lights by Rossiana Nasir are effective in re-creating a war zone, the crammed hold of a ship and the detention centre Braham ends up in. It is in this last place that the play ends beautifully and effectively. Braham waits in silent agony on the end of a phone line for his French acquaintance to respond to a plea for help.

The performer's silence and his expression are far more powerful than any of the earlier rapid-fire verbosity could ever be.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Too many hats spoil the plot'. Print Edition | Subscribe