Tackling the theme of The Other, the 2017 M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival opens with Triple Bill, a set of three new plays going deep into topics of the marginalized, the solitary and the forgotten. At the same time, these plays delve into the problems and concerns of youth today while celebrating young talent, be they taking on the role of playwright or performer. Check out our review of each of these fantastically imaginative and bold plays below:
Devised & Performed by Down Syndrome Association (Singapore)
Conceptualised, Written & Directed by Jean Ng
Assistant Director: Julius Foo
Devised and performed by the Down Syndrome Association of Singapore, Nonsense is exactly what it sounds like. An abstract piece of theatre, Nonsense loosely follows a group of refugees attempting to make sense of the increasingly senseless world around them through various means. Playwright/director Jean Ng and assistant director Julius Foo achieve this by choreographing fascinating movements and sequences for the cast of young people with Down Syndrome, from poetry recital to improv actions, to transforming everyday utensils into musical instruments and even a guest appearance from ‘Jennifer Lopez’.
Although one may be left somewhat confused by all these movements and their symbolism, Nonsense‘s aim is not to clarify or ascribe meaning, but to evoke and recreate those feelings of confusion felt in an ever changing, increasingly chaotic world, and giving them form through the cast’s enthusiastic performance. Jean Ng compares the feeling of being thrust headfirst into the work as a means of really connecting with these people with Down Syndrome, who most of us wouldn’t even be encountering in our daily lives, allowing us to truly reach out and connect with these people in the intimate theatre setting.
As for the performance itself, each and every one of the cast members took their roles very seriously, almost as if they were seeking perfection in their keen focus in getting the lines just right, refusing to make a single mistake. Nonsense filled us with a warm sense of glee as we watched the cast break out into wide smiles, having fun as they discovered the sheer joy of performing for an audience and doing a great job of it too. Nonsense may not have a perfect answer to the world’s problems, but it sure as heck shows audiences that in spite of the insanity all around us, it’s completely possible to seek solace in the everyday, finding comfort in the most unexpected of ways.
Devised & Performed by St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School
Written & Directed by Dwayne Lau
Dwayne Lau proves his skill behind the scenes as he takes on a directorial role instead of his usual acting presence in The Box, expertly guiding the cast from St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School as they played out the script’s exploration of the obsession with ‘likes before bites’ culture (where social media presence is valued over actual sustenance) in today’s youth. The Box follows the lives of a group of schoolgirls as they navigate the complex, superficial world of social media, and the ensuing havoc it wreaks on their lives. At the centre of it all are Clara and Germaine, two best friends who refuse to post photos of themselves in each other’s presence on Instagram, for fear that one’s unpopularity would bring down the other’s.
The Box is a surprisingly accurate reflection of the dangerous dynamic of a modern girls school, and under Dwayne Lau’s direction chock full of symbolic movement and choreography, the play fully and effectively delivers the fiercely relevant message not to get caught up in the ‘pseudo-perfection’ of social media we preoccupy ourselves with. The Box was also a delight in that it introduced us to multiple potential new talents in the cast. Lais Raquel Schweiger, for example, was a standout performer, instantly commanding attention with her strong stage presence while confidently delivering clear, crisp lines.
With a fantastic cast with great onstage chemistry and brimming with confidence, The Box epitomizes what the M1 Peer Pleasure Festival is all about – celebrating the energy and creative minds of youths while staging pertinent, relevant issues in a relatable context. A job well done by Dwayne Lau and St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School.
How Did I Mess Up This Bad: An Analysis
Staged by UNSAID
Directed by Serena Ho
The last play in Triple Bill touches on the difficult topic of mental health issues. An increasingly common issue in youths today, How Did I Mess Up This Bad? by Syafiqah Nabilah Bte Shamsheralam follows a day in the life of Rachel (Sharmaine Goh), who suffers from depression. As she interacts with friends and family, the audience becomes privy to the frustrations from both sides in understanding and coping with a mental health issue that can be easy to simply dismiss as acting out.
Not all is bleak though, as Rachel attempts to encourage herself by finding ways to be happy, such as positive thinking and getting a cat, listing them out on a whiteboard behind her, and her boyfriend Adam (Kris Natarajan), while not entirely able to understand what she goes through, does the best thing he possibly can in a situation like that: promise to stick with her through thick and thin and be there for her no matter what.
How Did I Mess Up This Bad? is a deeply relatable piece that will resonate with anyone who’s been through or is going through a rough patch in their life and feel as if they’re completely alone. And it’s no wonder, as UNSAID did research based on crowd-sourced stories on mental illness and society’s attitudes towards them. The M1 Peer Pleasure Festival provides the perfect platform to highlight such issues, and one can only hope that plays brave enough to tell these unspoken stories continue to get the exposure they need, and offer those suffering a hand of hope and a show of solidarity.
As a whole, Triple Bill succeeds at bringing across the issues and concerns of youths today, while giving new talent an opportunity to take to the stage and for some, even discover theatre for the very first time. All the more why the post-show dialogue was important for the mostly school-going audience, for those not usually exposed to theatre or those wishing to understand the youth of today better, shedding more light on the issues highlighted in the play.
Performance attended 1/8/17
Triple Bill plays at the Esplanade Recital Studio till 4th August. Tickets available here