Short + Sweet Theatre 2015

It’s been some years since I went to see S+S in Penang. My reception of it back then was rather… Tepid. My overall impression seems to have been “generally grim and not fun.” I like the arts to be enjoyable, and I don’t find grimdark or gloomy or depressing things enjoyable.

Then I went to see S+S Dance this year and it was my misfortune that nearly all those in the week I went to see it were contemporary dances. I’ve got very limited appreciation for dances that seem to largely involve falling to the floor and rolling around with a variety of anguished facial expressions and contorted limbs. Give me ballroom dances, the dances of musicals, and lindy hop any day. Or even ballet (though I struggled to fully appreciate Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker when the Russian State Ballet of Siberia came to in Edinburgh back in 2010). I liked a couple of the performances I saw at S+S Dance, but on the whole I don’t think I was very impressed. I mean, clearly many of them can dance and are good dancers but were those performances enjoyable to me? Not really.

Anyhow, I also decided it was time to revisit S+S Theatre and so I did (after first roping Joash and Su Chen into seeing it with me :P ). This is the rundown of my impressions of the eleven that showed in Week 2.

1.    Decide
Director : Adeq Sutun
Playwright : Jude James
“A story about a mysterious button.” Eana, Rokiah and Amri face a dilemma to decide whether the mysterious button is uppsoed to be pushed or not. The conflicts among them caused everyone to die. What power killed them and what is the secret behind the button? Let’s watch DECIDE to know the untold secret.

What on earth was that? The costumes were the most striking (gaudy, almost) and elaborate of the lot but that didn’t make up for the fact that I barely understood anything in this short play. The actors spoke in Malay with a lot of slang and in rather strong accents. The slang did not aid my understanding of the story here. Perhaps the Malays in the audience understood it more but to me it was nearly as incomprehensible as if they had been speaking Mandarin.  The confusion was made worse by the fact that about half the time, the characters were half-yelling and trying to talk over each other and the acting was very exaggerated (to produce a comic effect? I don’t know). So it was loud, confused, and nearly unintelligible. I was not at all fond of the direction here.

The blurb says, “What power killed them and what is the secret behind the button? Let’s watch DECIDE to know the untold secret.” Uh… We never did find out?? All we saw were three characters in brightly coloured costumes basically having a shouting match and fighting over whether or not to push the button. And then one pushed the button and they all died. I still don’t know why. Nor do I care.
2.    The Keeper
Director : Toby Teh
Playwright : Kenan
What goes in the Vault does not always stay in the Vault.

This one would have benefited from being longer than 10 minutes. It had a base from which I think something interesting could have been constructed – the idea that there is a memory vault where people go to store and retrieve memories, and sometimes there are bad memories there that perhaps shouldn’t be taken out again. But 10 minutes simply wasn’t enough to develop the idea into something strong and solid. It just felt like a random episode that went nowhere.

I also felt that some of the cast here were overacting a little – and not in the same way that the cast of Decide overacted. With Decide, it felt like it was done on purpose (and thus more a directorial issue than an acting one) but here it felt like the actors were trying too hard? Not all, but a couple of them. The way they spoke and tried to throw their voices seemed forced; it felt clearly amateur.


3.    Grace
Director : Marcus Lee
Playwright : Alex Broun
Women are beautiful, radiant, flawless. Like nothing else in the world. But is that all that’s there to women? Let us tell you our side of the story.

Grace was one of my favourites of the night. It was sort of like three intertwined monologues of Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, and Marilyn Monroe. I thought it was very well-written, and quite well-directed. Acting-wise, Nabilah Hamid was the best as Princess Grace; she gave a very natural performance. All three actresses had good line delivery (essential to the way that play was written) but she really stood out.

It’s quite a serious little piece, and requires a lot of attention to the lines. It also requires some knowledge of those three famous figures. If you didn’t know anything about Grace or Diana or Marilyn, you would probably feel a little lost watching it.


4.    Gnome de Plume
Director : Terence Toh
Playwright : Sally Davies
Two unlikely characters meet in a park and start comparing lives. Is the grass really always greener on the other side of the fence?

Disgruntled office worker meets disillusioned garden gnome. This one had quite a bit of witty dialogue, and was hilarious. (E.g. When they decide to switch places, the gnome asks the man if he can sit still for hours on end and the man says yes, he’s had lots of practice in the office. hahahahahahaha) The actors, Adry Azad Nasution and Clarence Kuna, had good comic timing and they seemed perfectly cast for the roles.


5.    Never Walk Alone
Director : Danial Nawawi
Playwright : Lenny Wan
A Manchester United supporter and a Liverpool supporter find themselves trapped together in a locked room. There is a dead body inside and a psychopathic killer may return anytime to finish them off, but all they seem to bother to do is talk about football!

I daresay this was the audience favourite of the night. It was a hoot, starting with the kidnapped Liverpool fan being threatened by “Extremist Maniac 1” and “Extremist Maniac 2” (labelled accordingly with signs hung around their necks), supporters of Harimau Malaya. Neither of them can bring themselves to shoot her as they say they will and they end up handing her the gun and telling her to shoot herself instead. :)) Another hostage of theirs shows up – and he’s a Man Utd fan! Cue crazy interactions between the two… until the police show up.

I would have liked this more except that at times it felt a little too manic, and the ending was slightly confusing because suddenly the dead body (a mannequin) was supposed to be the other hostage? Huh? (This did result in a funny line from the cops who showed up: “A Liverpool fan [with a gun in hand] and a Man U fan [dead on the floor]. MAKES SENSE.” I laughed until I cried at that line.)


6.    Principles
Director : Kenan
Playwright : Calvin Wong
In a future where doctors can modify your moral principles at will, what does it mean to be a ‘good person’? More importantly: does my insurance cover this?

Like The Keeper, I think this one had a good base, but needed more time to be fleshed out. Or, it would have needed to be more focussed on a single incident to be more effective in this 10-minute format, as the next short play demonstrated…


7.    Stay
Director : Mia Sabrina Mahadir
Playwright : Toby Teh
Something in the way you move makes me feel like I can’t live without you.

Girl is packing to leave and snaps angrily at her housemate and friend, saying he should help her. Guy watches unhappily and refuses to lift a finger. The sullen conversation devolves into a full-blown argument, which turns into a serious moment where true feelings are expressed… But she still leaves.

The serious stories tend to be harder to pull off because it’s more difficult to make people feel for the characters, and it requires much stronger actors. Serious stories that are entirely dialogue-based are even harder.  Stay (and later Pulp or No Pulp) managed somehow to keep my attention despite being nearly all talk. Not bad! I think what helped Stay – compared to The Keeper and Principles – was that it chose to focus on the One Major Event that explained everything else, instead of telling little incidents that would lead up to it. There wouldn’t have been time for a proper set-up and a fulfilling climax and ending anyway.


8.    Songs of the Dragon
Director : Dr Shark
Playwright : Jackie Ashkin
What do you do when you’re trying to listen and you still can’t hear? Mina wants desperately to reconnect with a past she never lived, but can she hear a song she does not know?

This one was on the “Weird” end of the spectrum. The main characters were Mina, her doctor, and a dragon that only Mina can see. The dragon consisted of four people, whom I thought must have had extremely boring rehearsals because 80% of the time they just lay flat on the floor – didn’t even need to worry about facial expressions because they were all covered by the cloth that made up the dragon. It was a strange script…


9.    Pulp or No Pulp
Director : Wendy Wong
Playwright : Freddy Tan
Shared by two actors, this play uncovers love, marriage and the roller-coaster ride of a life-long relationship. On a side note, will the question to have pulp or no pulp for orange juice be answered?

This was another of my favourites. It was the story of a relationship between a husband and a wife from beginning to the end, and was – similar to Grace – extremely dependent upon the actors’ abilities. There was no physical interaction between the two – they just stood next to each other (and later sat down) and spoke as if reading messages they wrote to each other on Post-its, tearing off and tossing Post-its to the ground as they did. They looked at each other sometimes, but that was about it. But it was so effective. Shawn Loong and Jean Chan did so very well in conveying their characters and making the story really touching.

Hmmm. Perhaps I should have voted for this one instead. It had a good script, good directing, and good acting. An excellent result all round.


10.           1504
Director : Kent Tan
Playwright : Kent Tan
Salam Alaikum, my name is Siraj and this is my father, Kashim, we Rohinya from Rakine and very happy to see you all in Ma-Lai!

I thought this felt familiar and after re-reading my previous S+S review, I realised why – back in 2012 there was also one that dealt with the issue of immigration, although I think this was done much better. The two actors were good, though I’m not too sure whether 1504 is supposed to be the number/name of a ship…?


11.    A Writer’s Satire
Director : Henry Tan
Playwright : Mark. Sasse
A writer is summoned to appear in front of the Industry Review Board, a new government agency which was established to help creative artists become more politically correct.

Interesting script, but performances could have been better. Aldrich Wong was hilarious as the secretary, but both he and Andy Poon didn’t have clear enunciation, which made it difficult to catch what they were saying at times. (Not at all helped by the fact that he was so funny in his role, and that the content was so satirical of government attempts to censor things – you had to strain to hear them over audience laughter.)


They announced the finalists at the end, and the 5 that made it from Week 2 were Decide, Grace, Stay, Pulp or No Pulp, 1504 and Never Walk Alone. I am completely on board with all those choices except for Decide. I was really shocked when they called out that one. Gnome de Plume should have made it in over Decide. But I guess the judges saw something in Decide that I completely failed to perceive.

Overall thoughts: I’m pretty impressed by some of the acting and directorial talent that was on display on Saturday night, particularly those in Grace, Stay and Pulp or No Pulp. A few of the scripts were good too, and overall they were much more “watchable” than the ones I saw in 2012 in Penang.

Got anything to add or say? :D