Theatre review: Illogic is valentine to the theatre

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 17, 2013

Review Theatre


Cake Theatrical Productions

Drama Centre Theatre/Last Friday

Watching Illogic is a little like looking through a kaleidoscope.

Turn it and its mirrors reflect a shimmer of colour, every twist creating a vastly different pattern of colour and light - and while no two viewers might share the same perspective, everything occurs within the confines of that single cylinder.

Cake's artistic director Natalie Hennedige has created a work of metatheatre that takes the kaleidoscope and shakes it in your face.

It is a powerful in-your-face work of creation that deconstructs creation itself, a psychedelic valentine to the theatre.

Illogic is set in a sweeping sea of Escher-esque stairs. There, two artists wander adrift, as if they were on a Moebius strip of a mind looping back on itself. In this loose and often selfreferential overarching narrative, Edith Podesta plays a male playwright-director creating a new work and presenting it to his muse and lover, an actress played by Noorlinah Mohamed.

Within the dramatic structure of a play itself, Illogic scrutinises both the conscious and the subconscious levels of theatre-making with an arsenal of Hennedige's trademarks - the visceral physical- ity, loud design elements and carefully constructed abstraction. It is a reflection, perhaps, of Hennedige's own journey: Illogic took 11/2 years to create, a considerable detour from her previous works.

There are two clearly defined acts. The first act is a jukebox of wildly eclectic ideas that spiral into one another and is heavy on music as a connecting thread: the wild guitar riffs of Metallica's Enter Sandman crossfade into Whitney Houston's I'm Every Woman like a karaoke session on speed, with interpretive dancing to boot.

There are quick sketches on the nature of love, and Podesta and Noorlinah cycle through many different pairings - whether between Jesus and his frustratingly naive disciple John (with a jealous Judas thrown in for good measure) or a young girl experiencing a sexual awakening, to the concern of her pompous aunt. Some observations cut deeper than others, which felt a little tacked-on.

It is the more ponderous second act that grounds the play and gives it its heft, moving from the rapid-fire cycle of vignettes to a meditation on the theatre itself - even if it does drag its feet in a sort of protracted delirium.

But in a lovely take on creative appropriation, phrases are plucked from the fragments of the first act and given an entirely new context in the second. Theatre conventions, such as the genres of horror or romance, are put in the spotlight in a mix of stripped-down narration and high melodrama. One brilliant scene sees Podesta conducting a tremendous orchestra of lights.

Both Podesta and Noorlinah are charismatic performers who gleam with a magnetic physical precision, their bodies forming clean lines and geometric shapes as they don designer David Lee's wardrobe of screwball sophistication, from elegant monochrome outfits to lurid shades of pink and turquoise. They inhabit the bodies of different characters with a feline grace and ease.

Together, they flesh out the ideas of desolation and vulnerability, things shared by both love and the process of creative collaboration.

It takes two, after all, and it is with good reason that the song The Origins Of Love, from the cult musical-comedy Hedwig And The Angry Inch (1998), forms part of the backbone of the second act.

Creation can be a lonely process, peppered with the conversations in one's head and the inability to imagine how a work might be received.

Love - and the relationship shared between two people - is also a lonely process, in its own way. This world inhabited by two, and just two, is not easily understood by others. It can be examined, guessed at, poked and prodded, but never quite fully grasped by an outsider.

These myriad ideas are captured, touchingly, in an anecdote that Noorlinah relates about a cockatoo that she cannot bear to cage but also cannot bear to let go. Will it return, if freed? Will a lover ever come back? Will a work of theatre blossom or die when given the space to breathe?

And oddly enough, there is a certain logic to the chaos of Hennedige's layered exploration of life and art, and the porous boundaries between.

Perhaps it is only when one discards the logic of the mind that one can embrace the work with the logic of the heart.