Up close with humanity's darkness

Stanley Ng plays murderer Wang Jia Hao in Oedipus.
Stanley Ng plays murderer Wang Jia Hao in Oedipus.PHOTO: YEO SIAK LING

Fascinatingly horrible moments pepper Toy Factory's Oedipus, which is set in a shophouse

REVIEW / THEATRE

OEDIPUS

Toy Factory Productions

NOWPlaying@17/Last Friday


This seamy crime thriller seems designed to make its audience uncomfortable.

Set in a Chinatown shophouse, this Mandarin riff on the classic Greek myth of taboos incessantly unsettles its audience.

Theatregoers spend the opening scene crammed into a stairwell while actors declaim on the landing above.

Because of the narrow shophouse space, sightlines are often disrupted. You will inevitably have to crane your neck to see something happening behind you or jostle your fellow theatregoers to get a glimpse of the action.

There are some questionable special effects.

Throughout the play, cast members keep up a distracting refrain of hitting the walls or floor with hammers, which is like having a construction site next door. At one point, this reviewer is hit on the head by runaway ping-pong balls.

  • BOOK IT / OEDIPUS

  • WHERE: NOWPlaying@17, 17A Smith Street

    WHEN: Saturday, 7 and 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: $36 from bit.ly/2ptivjt

    INFO: Restricted 18 (mature themes and sexual references). Performed in Mandarin and some dialect with no surtitles

Oedipus, directed by Goh Boon Teck from a script by Zhu Xin Chen, is part of what Toy Factory has dubbed its "lab experiment project".

Wang Jia Hao, a righteous police officer with a violent streak, must interrogate a perpetrator who utterly revolts him. This man, who to his chagrin is almost similarly named Wang Jia Hao, is disabled, yet somehow whipped his mother to death.

Wang the cop, played by Chong Woon Yong in a straightforward, shouty way, is having trouble at home as his neglected, sex-starved wife (Trisse Liew) threatens to leave him.

He has nightmares about her and Wang the murderer (Stanley Ng), who manipulates his interrogator all too easily by sliding between victimised pathos and villainous psychopathy.

They are ably supported by a spirited chorus, whose members play prostitutes, gossipy neighbours and other characters while gamely clambering about the banisters and furniture.

Set and lighting designer Tai Zi Feng has been ingenious within the confines of a small space, transforming the shophouse's second floor into a seedy, claustrophobic den where the walls and floor are covered in newspaper.

The third floor, in contrast, is a spartan interrogation room, but it is here that the discomfort is ratcheted up from the physical to the psychological. Some truly perverse conversations are had in this space - anyone familiar with the Oedipal myth can hazard a guess as to what.

Oedipus has some fascinatingly horrible moments and allows one to get up close and personal with the darkness of humanity.

Although perhaps the point need not be so literally hammered home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2018, with the headline 'Up close with humanity's darkness'. Print Edition | Subscribe