M1 Chinese Theatre Festival

Descendants with 1 table, 2 chairs

Liu Xiao Yun (seated) and Zhu Hong in Descendants 400.
Liu Xiao Yun (seated) and Zhu Hong in Descendants 400.PHOTO: THE THEATRE PRACTICE



M1 Chinese Theatre Festival

Black Box, Centre 42

Last Friday

Last year and in 2014, The Theatre Practice presented experimental works of theatre in the one table, two chairs format.

The minimalist setting includes exactly what the title says and is meant to free the imagination from the rules of traditional Chinese opera and theatre.

Of the three 20-minute sketches presented this year in the M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, two directed by the group's Liu Xiaoyi hark back to the director's favoured theme of reinterpreting the Singapore classic, Descendants Of The Eunuch Admiral.

Created by The Theatre Practice's founder Kuo Pao Kun, Descendants Of The Eunuch Admiral compares the loneliness and biological impotence of seafarer Zheng He with the frustration and rootlessness of contemporary Singaporeans. This year's Descendants 600 and Descendants 400 attempt to do the same, but largely fail.

It is a lot to ask of an audience to derive Zheng He's internal monologue during his long voyage from a largely silent 20 minutes in which an actor stares at a table.

In Descendants 400, the excellent Liu Xiao Yun devours the white surface as if it charts his destiny as well as the endless seas, but after five minutes, the point has been made - unless the point of the next 15 was to make the audience feel frustration and impotence.

In the next sketch, Okorn-Kuo Jing Hong inches across the stage as it fills with the sounds of the sea (sound design by Ng Jing).

Her body transforms in agonising inches, showing the weight of age and the burden of sorrow and loss, while Liu Xiao Yun stares at the sky, perhaps seeking heavenly guidance or charting the voyage using the stars.

There is too little for them to do in too great a span of time. To limit such talented actors to silent tableaus difficult to fully observe in the shadowed lighting (design by Genevieve Pek) is to take the secret of nuclear fission and bury it deep in the ground rather than use the energy to power a city or set off an explosion.

The third sketch, directed by Pawit Mahasarinand of Thailand, is charming. Thai actress Ornanong Thaisriwong and China's Zhu Hong pair off in graceful, even acrobatic, movements.

They pop out of the audience and play games of hide-and-seek and discovery. They get the audience to join the mirror mimicry, reminding them that they, too, are part of the performance.

They are Gertrude and Ophelia of Hamlet, the female characters so overlooked that, at the painful height of their act, the other two actors come onstage to take a bow.

Nicely done, even if the table and chairs remain largely superfluous to the performance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'Descendants with 1 table, 2 chairs'. Print Edition | Subscribe