M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018: Does This Work For You? by The Nervous System (Review)

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The Nervous System gives theatrical form to the voice of the oppressed in this promising project about workplace discrimination.

There’s a reason they call it ‘the daily grind’ – work can be a drag, and even more so if you’re at the bottom, pushed around by superiors and the system. It’s no wonder then that there’s plenty of room for complaints to be made, and young multidisciplinary theatre company The Nervous System has taken it upon themselves to craft those grievances into a promising piece of verbatim, physical theatre, giving these voices a chance to break the silence.

In Does This Work For You?, director Irsyad Dawood and The Nervous System team explore the spectrum of workplace discrimination faced by everyday Singaporeans, adapting transcribed interviews held with real people into script and adding movement. These interviewees are played by a young cast brimming with potential, consisting of Andre Chong, Ashvine Pandian, Coco Wang Ling, Joan Dwiartanto and Rebecca Ashley Dass. The interviews have been well chosen, offering balanced, reasonable arguments that appeal both emotionally and logically to anyone in the audience, as opposed to simply an angry storm of outraged whining. From accusing the army of being one of the most racist companies to tackling fears of opening up about mental illness, it’s a no holds barred play that’s angry but fair, urging audiences to think about prejudice in all its forms.

Many of the movements witnessed here complement each interview extremely well, adding emphasis to every account. In playing a woman afraid to come out about her depression, Rebecca Ashley Dass performs unconscious, nervous foot movements in a set rhythm, while Andre Chong channels his inner ‘bad guy’ as he plays oppressive army officers and plays up his political correctness in repeating Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s recent speech addressing MRT tunnel flooding. Folding chairs become handbags and even the most damning of statements are made palatable when disguised as a song, while characters, in expressing their lack of agency in the workplace, are literally picked up and carried to a new position while telling their story. There’s a sense that there’ve been a lot of rehearsals that’ve gone into these movements and physicalities, allowing them to shift seamlessly and naturally from one account to the next. These accounts are broken up and played with for dramatic effect, and Irsyad has done well to find a good flow and pace to bring all these stories together.

The Nervous System has done very well to put these accounts into a capable, accessible production that feels fresh in its presentation of a familiar topic and polished in its execution. Limited by the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio, if ever given the opportunity to restage it as a full performance in a proper space, they absolutely should, as Does This Work For You? has the potential to go very far with its pertinent themes and subject matter, sure to resonate with countless audience members watching it.

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