Could millennials ever survive a war? That is the central question Patch and Punnet attempt to answer in their newest work, as they bring the 2017 theatre season to a close.
In 2042, the collective imagines a Singapore of the future – not too different from our current one, save for slightly more advanced technology, and newly armed with the memory and scars of a savage war in 2024. The strawberry generation, or the millennials of today, now lead lives as middle-aged adults, having lived through the war and forced to grow up rapidly, losing friends and family along the way as they navigate a future that’s more uncertain than ever. In the two new plays presented in 2042, instead of looking at the world from a macro-perspective, the members of Patch and Punnet instead focus on stories of love, both romantic and familial, and the timeless crises they face that as relevant now as they probably will be in the near future.
The first part of the double bill began with Open Arms. Co-written by Astley Xie and Nisa Syarafana, Open Arms begins with a meet-cute, as 24 year old lawyer Aaron (Krish Natarajan) encounters workplace technical assistant Amy (Nisa Syarafana) due to an office mishap. The relationship develops quickly, and both lonely souls quickly find solace in each other, culminating in what seems like a happy ending at the midpoint of the play. But it is a play about star-crossed lovers after all, and the lovers are forcefully torn apart by the local authorities, ending their relationship once and for all.
Open Arms heavily echoes the sci-fi/romance film Her, considering its central narrative of a human/AI romance and its final unhappy ending. It’s a play that’s dependent on the audience believing fully in its protagonists’ relationship, and for Open Arms, it was one that simply didn’t come through strongly enough. There is nothing inherently wrong with the script, which when played right, had the potential to become a romance we could genuinely get behind. But there is a lack of sincerity in the way the two actors delivered the lines to each other, often coming across more as simply telling rather than being.
But where its naturalistic aspects are weak, it is in its imaginative, fantastic elements where Open Arms really finds its footing. Nisa Syarafana shines when her voice is finally allowed to break past the initial robotic monotone, displaying genuine pain as she is apprehended and literally brought to her knees. As Amy’s handlers, Alison Bickham and Sharmaine Goh also did well with their commitment to their mysterious, off kilter characters, figures of authority who balanced short-lived comedy with genuine threat as they physically grapple with Aaron and command the stage while they’re on it. It is these moments that save Open Arms from being forgettable, and one hopes that future pieces from the team learn how to play more to their strengths.
In the second part of the double bill, A Mother’s Love, Alia Alkaff plays the eponymous mother, a grizzled war veteran and ex-military officer now retired and spending her days at home, while scriptwriter Dwayne Tan plays her adoptive son, saved from the clutches of death as a baby by his mother. Conflict arises when Dwayne’s character finds a girlfriend his mother doesn’t approve of, and tensions run high with jealousy and fear of abandonment when he announces his decision to move out.
A Mother’s Love is a rare piece of theatre these days, where its power lies both in its emotional monologues and the many quiet, introspective moments that allow its actors the space to emote without having to speak. This is helped by Bennett Bay’s simple but effective music in underscoring the play’s overarching mood, helping heighten tension and deepen emotions in each scene they appear.
Alia Alkaff plays her role with gusto, able to act beyond her years in grasping the physicality and voice of a middle-aged woman scarred both physically and mentally by her military past. In the flashbacks she has, Alia delivers monologues with genuine pain and joy, her voice warbling slightly as she recalls the first time she sets eyes on her son.
Alia’s role is supported by a four-person ensemble playing her inner demons and occasionally speaking on her behalf, writhing and posing as if to showcase her inner turmoil, but they seem extraneous, distracting from the core relationship at the centre of the play. Watching Alia move across the space, at times enraged and confused at the state she finds herself in, is what holds the entire play together, and her believable maternal relationship with Dwayne Ng onstage is integral to the play’s final revelation becoming all the more shocking and impactful.
2042 is a bold and ambitious step forward for a company as young as Patch and Punnet. Although they still have a long way to go, given the right mentorship and training, their future has the potential to shine bright, and with each succeeding performance and production, can only get better, and become the theatre mainstays of tomorrow.
Performance attended 29/12/17
2042 plays from 29th – 30th December at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box. Tickets available from Peatix