Toy Factory starts off the year with the big budget production of Prism. Tackling issues of gentrification, progress and history, Prism is a monster of a play with a big message to tell.
Prism bears many similar themes to plays like Jean Tay’s Boom, offering commentary on our endless, inevitable march of progress and refusing to stop even for a moment to consider what’s lost in the progress, as well as the plight of the simple office worker forced to become the middleman between the government and the common man.
Set in a fictitious, futuristic world, Aman (Fir Rahman) is an Urban Redevelopment Board official, and is tasked to evict 33000 residents of “The Surrounding City”, as an impending demolition looms over the city’s oldest heritage. Aman is at a moral crossroads here – how can he live with himself when he knows the plight of these people?
Fir Rahman does a remarkable job of playing government mouthpiece Aman. As our protagonist, there’s an uneasy alliance the audience forms with him, a stagnant man made antagonist by circumstance and inability to do anything. More than anything, there’s something inherently infuriating about Aman’s actions, more often than not reiterating his difficult position as a government worker, unable to exact any real change despite wanting to, due to the endless red tape and bureaucracy he faces. When he offers the displaced residents material wealth, there is an emptiness to the gesture, more token than sincere, and his static role is frustrating to watch, unable to become the hero the city needs, accurately reflecting the plight of many modern day activists placed in difficult positions.
Prism also plays up its dark themes by placing its setting in a desolate, desert-like land, with the destruction of the city to make way for a new nuclear reactor. It’s undoubtedly apocalyptic, and Leong Hon Kit’s design of sand strewn all over the stage with huge, abstract obelisks loom in the background. The sand is also cleverly used by characters to create a windswept soundscape, when they let it slip from their hands and fall to the ground. Tube Gallery’s new age, dull, grubby costumes for the displaced citizens also adds to the dour mood, a stark contrast to Aman’s well-coiffed, spiffy suit, adding to the overall aesthetic of the play.
Prism suggests that its world might be an alternate reality for Singapore, with characters conversing in multiple languages. When Aman speaks to old man Hami (Alvin Chiam), they converse in English and Chinese respectively, and this enhances the generation gap between them, with Hami chiding Aman for having forgotten his roots and tradition, eviscerating his past by letting the destruction of his heritage happen. By the end of the play, Aman is lost, unhappy. Although he attempts to reassure the families that everything will be alright, he feels an overhwhelming guilt over letting the destruction proceed anyway.
The rest of Prism‘s cast members are given multiple roles to play. Shu Yi Ching, in her role as a newscaster, is excellent, portraying the role with poise and perfect enunciaton, while as a background singer, her performance was elegant and well executed. Farez Najid, in his role as a priest, was convincing as a religious leader, imbuing his followers with a newfound sense of confidence and hope, the will to fight on with the strength and determination in his voice, and Farah Ong embodied and owned her role as a witch.
Prism ultimately acts as a message to the government, almost a cry of protest to look and see that this is the damage one is causing to our history and shared past as we destroy memories to develop the future. Prism plays out like the equivalent of slow cinema, reflective and passive, bereft of humour, and requiring some thought to fully process the symbols and metaphors in its script. Prism has a huge, fascinating fictional world that remains vastly unexplored in its short duration, and one feels that it ends up scratching the surface of a lot of issues, rich in breadth and poised with the opportunity to go much further with its potential to bring across its vital statement about preservation in the face of progress.
Prism plays at the Drama Centre Theatre till 5 March. Tickets available from SISTIC
Photo Credit: Toy Factory