Generasia gives Erwin Shah Ismail and Kimberly Chan a platform to showcase their range of talents in two solo performances.
One of the biggest gripes we’ve always had with the theatre scene is that as wonderful and skilled the current generation of actors is, there’s been a severe lack of platforms to truly let new, emerging talents have their time in the spotlight and show off what they’re really capable of. So for Generasia to have set up the all new Platform Series for precisely that purpose gives us hope in the best way possible, and this February, started off their inaugural show with a double bill of two self-written solo shows by Erwin Shah Ismail and Kimberly Chan.
In the first half of the evening, Erwin starts off the night with an all new, extended version of Kulit On The Go. Directed by Richard Tan, Kulit On The Go may have retained its simple, effective set, but has expanded from a simple 20-minute, feel-good edutainment segment in 2016 to more than double that duration, adding new characters and even more food for thought in this show about the art and heart behind leathercrafting.
Erwin is blessed with a chameleon like gift of easily changing from one character to the next, and easily draws the audience right into this rather niche world. Even with at least five characters to perform in the show, Erwin always makes it incredibly clear when he’s slipping into a whole new skin, so to speak; in one moment, he embodies a heavily accented Southern cowboy before shapeshifting into a cantankerous Chinese leather salesman uncle prattling on about the tanning process. Perhaps most interesting of all is the decision to eschew surtitles whether he’s speaking Hokkien or Malay, instead allowing Erwin to break the language barrier either with hasty, natural sounding translations one might encounter in everyday speech, or simply conveying crystal clear meaning through his body language and speech alone.
With this version, the new final message of Kulit On The Go ends up a little lost in attempting to grasp for a greater ‘meaning’ behind the deeply personal profession. Elements such as watching the traveling craftsman grow in skill isn’t presented quite clearly enough, while a potentially rich emotional moment in talking about a leather bag his father owned for 40 years is diluted in simply passing it around the audience.
But despite its flaws, there is a real passion behind Kulit On The Go that makes it an endearing piece. Erwin is sincere in his audience interactions and the passion behind his interest in leathercrafting real, creating a genuine connection to the story that makes us hang on to every one of his characters’ words as they gently guided us through the process. A clear, concise performance, there’s still plenty of room for more exploration in this show that effectively proves Erwin is one of the most versatile actors of the new generation.
After a brief intermission, Kimberly Chan presented In Her Shoes. Directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall, Kimberly started off with an easy listening, jazzy song, setting the tone for the performance – a journey that would take the audience through a selection of stories about women and their relationships in life through the medium of distinctive shoes representing each character. Here, Kimberly clearly shows off her wide vocal range and Broadway style capabilities, singing at least seven songs from Sondheim to Natasha Bedingfield to even classic Chinese ditty ‘Mo Li Hua’ throughout the performance to convey a certain mood or message from each of her characters.
In Her Shoes’ has a lot of potential to become a truly great work, but in its current iteration, finds weakness in Kimberly’s underdeveloped differentiation of her characters, making it difficult for an audience to gauge and see her true acting range, which one wishes she might have had better shown off in terms of physicality and voice. As a work in progress though, Kimberly has managed to craft a performance so deeply personal that possibly only she could ever perform in its entirety. The stories she has gathered are universally relatable, from difficult mothers to being unlucky in love to even a delicately handled segment about suicide, and as brief as each part is, each manages to produce a level of emotional resonance.
As a dancer, her physicality is always certain and her body strong in every scene. Towards the end, she even allows us a glimpse at her true capabilities as she engages in a flamenco dance she herself choreographed. Each movement brims with emotion and force, every step a physical extension of her psyche and showcasing Kimberly in her full glory and a miraculous recovery following her leg injury over the last few months. A promising performance, one hopes that Kimberly will continue to develop the work further in later iterations and gain more confidence onstage as we saw towards the end of the show, and In Her Shoes was a step in the right direction to showcase the heart and soul (or sole) or her vision as a young performer.
Solo performances are by no means easy and most of the time, it can be difficult even for a veteran actor to command a crowd for an hour by their own merit. For these two emerging actors to have put themselves out there and present their own works as first time playwrights is a brave enough act on its own, and one hopes that their stars continue to go on the rise in the years to come. It’s just the first step in a long career of potential highs, and we say with absolute certainty that we’re sure both Erwin and Kimberly will more than prove their worth as great performers in the near future.
Photo Credit: Madkings Productions
Performance attended 2/2/18
Platform Series: Journeys plays at the SOTA Studio Theatre from 2nd – 3rd February. Tickets available from SISTIC