Theatre review: Body X feels like a gleeful live game of Cluedo: Soap Opera

A scene from Body X, an experiential murder-mystery play commissioned for the Singapore Writers Festival. (From left to right) Ong Chin Hwee, Tan Wan Sze (in white gown), Tay Kong Hui, Judy Ngo (grey dress) and Doreen Toh (green dress). -- PHOTO: THE
A scene from Body X, an experiential murder-mystery play commissioned for the Singapore Writers Festival. (From left to right) Ong Chin Hwee, Tan Wan Sze (in white gown), Tay Kong Hui, Judy Ngo (grey dress) and Doreen Toh (green dress). -- PHOTO: THE ARTS HOUSE

Stepping into the world of the murder-mystery play Body X was like entering a gleeful live version of Cluedo: Soap Opera. Did the Housekeeper do it in the Study with the Pills? Or was it the Brother in the Lounge with the Handkerchief?

The audience has been summoned to assist the police with a case from the 1970s, one on the brink of turning cold, where a groom died abruptly at his wedding dinner rehearsal.

The initial autopsy revealed asthma as the cause, but the police, given the suspicious circumstances, are not entirely sure. With that, and having surrendered their mobile phones at the door, the audience is free to roam the shadowy halls and floors of The Arts House, armed with a character list in order to figure out whodunit - and why.

Created by Li Xie, Danny Yeo, Oliver Chong and Liu Xiaoyi, familiar names in Chinese theatre, Body X is performed in a mix of English and Mandarin and co-directed by Li and Yeo with enthusiasm and aplomb.

It was commissioned for the Singapore Writers Festival and bears hints of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino's locked room mysteries and Agatha Christie's mystery novels, where anyone could be a suspect.

There is a campy, noir feel to the show, transporting one back to the realm of the Cantonese melodramas of the 1950s and '60s, where illicit relationships and backstabbing relatives were the flavours du jour.

These back stories are suitably juicy, but every character is so enormously beleaguered with secrets that it feels almost mandatory that they make a big, exaggerated reveal in every scene.

Each performer seems to silently scream, "Look! I am taking this mysterious bottle of pills out from behind a locked door!" or, "Hey, I have a bloody handkerchief in my pocket, I'm going to take it out for no reason!"

Of course, these deliberate dramatic flourishes are sometimes necessary, with dozens of audience members milling about, some passing through the scene and others distracted by perhaps a heated argument down the corridor.

And rarely have I seen an audience so delightedly complicit in the creation of a piece, scribbling down copious notes next to character names, smirking at each other (discussions were not allowed during the production), and then having heated debates after the show.

The surprises initially come thick and fast, but the novelty factor soon begins to wear off after a few scenes given the limited number of characters and rooms. Wisely enough, the directors do not linger too long: as soon as the show starts to drag its feet, it comes to a close.

On the whole, Body X feels like a scaled-down version of the British theatre company Punchdrunk's epic, intricate creations. Similarly, audiences can follow any of dozens of performers, often colliding into multiple narrative threads in vacated five-story buildings; or explore the richly-built world of the performance.

Body X's creative team does its best to reconstruct a crumbly mansion from the 1970s, attempting to use all viable rooms and nooks of the heritage building, although they seem to stop short at developing a more immersive environment, likely because of the strict conservation requirements surrounding the iconic former Parliament House.

There are some lovely visual moments - the opening scene is framed in a doorway, a square of light in the dark, gloomy Chamber, with characters entering and exiting the frame almost as if they were in a moving painting. Some peer nervously about beneath a staircase, framed beneath another skulking character above. Muffled conversations filter through walls, a phone rings in a distance, a clock chimes with ominous inevitability.

It is certainly one of the more effective site-specific performances I have seen, and even through beset with cheesy lines and an obsession with romantic plot twists, Body X serves up an evening of wicked fun. The audience is allowed to vote for who they think the guilty party is, and the results will be posted up on The Arts House's Facebook page on Tuesday (Nov 11). I, for one, am very curious to see if I got it right.

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

Body X is sold out.

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