M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh (Review)

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There’s no need for any hints as to how much we enjoyed this impeccably produced participatory theatre experience. 

In a world of innovative theatrical experiences, you often come across too many that scrimp on either execution or narrative. That’s not the case for Rei Poh’s Attempts: Singapore, which provided a thoroughly well-planned out participatory ‘game’ as its audience worked together to unravel a mystery, one clue at a time to describe a missing woman who may or may not be involved in a crime.

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In Attempts, Centre 42 was taken over by fictitious international conglomerate ARC, utilising it as ARC HQ. Set in a shady world not unlike ours, a crime against ARC has been committed and the audience is tasked with gathering clues as to who exactly the supposed perpetrator ‘Anne’ is. Renamed ‘The Lab’, for its purpose of giving audience members breathing space to brainstorm our thoughts, the entire Black Box was intricately retooled to resemble a cold, clinical institute, while its inhabitants were appropriately dressed, well embodied by each cast member. As the audience stepped in, the rules of the game were clearly introduced and explained to us by Henrik Cheng and Farez Najid, each one well articulated and welcoming in their player tutorial. The small audience of 22 was then split into two groups, each one directed to a second room, either the ‘autopsy room’ or the ‘bedroom’, before switching places later on. In a sense, the group goal was to find out who ‘Anne’ was if not the whole system would be shut down.

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Within each room, we’re introduced to some truly fascinating characters. In the ‘autopsy room’, we’re privy to Sabrina Sng gazing into a mirror and dancing, accentuating every aspect of the distinctly ‘Singaporean’ female body, as a robotic voice plays over the mic, deconstructing the ‘Singapore woman’ into all her component parts. Suhaili Safari flips through fashion magazines, dancing dreamily while imagining herself as the covergirls, while Farez Najid reappears here, this time as a mystical bomoh working his spirit magic. In the ‘bedroom’, meant to be the missing woman’s, Julie Wee channels a deranged woman scrawling words onto the mirror, exuding madness with each flick of her wrist. At no point do the actors ever interact with the audience, completely focused on performing the scenes and delivering their devised lines and allowing audiences to take things at their own pace. In a sense, one thinks of them almost like watching video game cutscenes, giving a glimpse into the narrative but never revealing too much.

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Neither did performances start the moment the audience stepped into each room, allowing everyone enough time to take in the magnificently detailed way each set was designed, with plenty of effort put into creating carefully typewritten letters and authentic looking handwritten notes, impeccable projection work from Genevieve Peck, and clues well hidden in the most unexpected of places. These inspired scenes performed served primarily to further immerse us into the already believable atmosphere, and one truly felt like a part of this made-up world, and more than willing to participate as a ‘player’ and invest ourselves fully in the story.

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One feels that Rei Poh has learnt plenty from his time working with interactive theatre company Coney HQ in London. Attempts: Singapore is clearly the result of strong research and a clear directorial vision that ensured timely movement and a consistently helpful guidance from interactive microphones and an authentic sounding ‘A.I.’, feeling as close to a ‘live’ exploratory video game experience as you’re ever going to get. Even at the end of the experience, audience members were left in similar pensive moods, independent of which room they had gone into first, and given a more than satisfactory conclusion. Through Attempts, Rei has successfully innovated beyond the traditional theatre form, breathing believability and realism by closing the distance from the metaphorical fourth wall between screen and audience, encouraging a truly big step forward for changing the way we experience theatre. In all, a rare instance of participatory theatre excelling on all fronts, from set design to narrative to sheer execution, and we can only hope Rei and his team keep up the fantastic work and continue to pioneer stellar participatory theatre experiences for audiences.

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Photo Credit: Andre Chong

Performance attended 25/1/18

Attempts: Singapore plays at various spaces before concluding at Centre 42 from 24th – 27th January. Tickets available from SISTIC

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