The Theatre Practice's Blank Run a taut psychological thriller with a sting in tail

Gloria Ang Xiao Teng in Blank Run.
Gloria Ang Xiao Teng in Blank Run.PHOTO: THE THEATRE PRACTICE

Blank Run uses video and sound to underline the struggles of a sexual abuse victim



The Theatre Practice

M1 Chinese Theatre Festival  Practice Space, 54 Waterloo Street

Last Friday

Blank Run is a memory mystery with a twist. It begins with an image familiar from dystopian novels and films.

A woman awakes in seemingly strange surroundings. She explores the limits of her "prison" until a blaring klaxon cuts her actions short.

She awakes again, goes through similar motions again. And again. Each new repetition reveals another piece in the puzzle of her story.

The hour-long work, conceived by Gloria Ang Xiao Teng, Zoea Tania Chen Jinyan and director Kuo Jian Hong, is a taut, psychological thriller with a sting in its tale.

Kuo's sets include clever zig-zag frames constructed from pipes. These serve as an enclosure at the start, but literally unfold with the story to serve as a backdrop for revelatory multimedia from Genevieve Peck and Edit & Play.

The screen on which the videos are projected is an uneven surface made up of clean white camisoles hung by performer Ang during her repetitive motions. Video images come without sound, then there is sound without images.

Just as the audience figures it out, the performer does too. This is a woman trapped in a prison of the mind. She is accessing a traumatic memory of sexual assault, a memory triggered by words and objects that throw her out of routine and back into the past.

The patchy, unreliable nature of memory is visually and viscerally shown in Blank Run, which ended its run yesterday.

Ang's economical actions (movements directed by Ming Poon) rivet from the start, aided by mobile, multi-functional sets, lights, sound and video that serve the story on the surface and add layers of subtext.

The use of pipes, water and cleanliness is significant in several ways. They represent ordinary life - doing laundry, bathing - as well as the need to wash away painful memories and a lingering sense of uncleanness.

In dystopian fiction, the seemingly powerless heroine soon seizes control of the story. Blank Run is set in that little-explored time between, when survivors are still struggling to regain control of their own narrative.

This was underlined in a post- show talk last Friday, featuring Ang and a representative from the Sexual Assault Care Centre run by the Association of Women for Action and Research.

Blank Run made it clearer than any amount of speech just how hard it is for survivors to process what happens to them, especially in situations where they were coerced by those they know.

A multimedia installation outside the Practice Space included the questions such survivors often have to deal with, well-meaning queries that nevertheless attempt to shift the blame - why did you (do this/ put yourself in this situation). Such questions only further imprison a survivor trying to break free of the cage of the past.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline 'Prisoner of the mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe