Review: The Bee by Theatresauce (Kuala Lumpur)

THE BEE Visual Only (February 2018)

Absurd, dark social satire leaves a lethal sting with Theatresauce’s final show of their 2017/18 season.

KUALA LUMPUR – In a world as dark and uncertain as our own, lines of morality are often blurred in the name of media sensationalism. A vigilante borders on villainy when he takes the law into his own hands, and one is forced to wonder – are crimes committed truly as heinous as they first appear, or might it really be our apathetic and unforgiving society to blame for pushing sociopaths to their logical extremes?

Malaysian theatre collective Theatresauce tackles precisely that in their production of Hideki Noda and Colin Teevan’s darkly absurd play The Bee, itself an adaptation of surrealist Japanese writer Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short story ‘Mushirai’. In The Bee, ordinary salaryman Ido (Jonathan Chew) returns home from ‘a busy day at work’ only to be surprised when he finds that a wanted criminal has held his wife and son hostage. As he is accosted by nosy, intrusive reporters and pleads with useless policemen who are all talk and no action, something feral and savage within the pleasant-natured Ido awakens as he takes matters into his own, newly violent hands. Embarking on an unexpected show of competition of machismo, Ido parallels criminal Ogoro’s hostage situation by doing the same to his family, and a bloody standoff where the two men attempt to break each other’s spirit reaches a fever pitch as they attempt to out-violate the other’s family.

A biting satire on society’s failure and inability to see an individual’s plight beyond the next media sensation, director and production designer Kelvin Wong extends the play’s title into even its set design, with a set of black tessellating hexagons resembling a hive serving as backdrop. There is an immense feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia that these patterns create, as one practically feels our line of sight restricted by the panels as characters sneak around behind these walls just out of our field of vision. Jonathan Chew’s performance as the initially hapless Ido is empathetic; one feels an immense sense of pity as parasitic NHK reporters Bella Rahim and Veshalini Naidu tear into him for juicy quotes, while he is literally flung about in a car driven by misogynistic, brash police officer Anchoku (Razif Hashim), Jonathan’s face displaying only terror and confusion as the chaos escalate around him.

It is precisely this polar opposite personality and behaviour that makes Ido’s 360 degree face-heel turn all the more shocking, as his meekness gives way to primal sexuality and bloodlust. Chew brings a bestial allure to his movements, a performance we can only look on at in horror as his face contorts into one that clearly revels in this brutal game of tit-for-tat as he breaks Ogoro’s wife from fearless firecracker to useless plaything (Amanda Ang’s evident distress from her dishevelled clothing and heartbroken face is incredibly disturbing to watch). Although violence is never physically performed against each actor, Kelvin’s choice to stylize these acts through a combination of mime and proxy manages to toe the line between bloody and beautiful, further blurring the lines of morality in the play. A red paper fan for example, acts as substitute for a disfigured hand as Ido maniacally tears it to shreds. By not being privy to the physical violence itself, this production in fact increases the extent of Ido’s brutality in his rape and torture by allowing audience members to imagine it taken to extremes, helped in part by the harsh lighting and evocative music that accompany these crimes.

By the time we arrive at the end of this absurd and increasingly high stakes face off, the fatigue from both police and media leaves one feeling completely drained and somewhat at a loss as we stand undecided if there really is anybody worth redeeming in this play. Much as Bella Rahim belts a Japanese version of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, it becomes clear that you can choose whatever way you wish to find justice, but the burden of its consequences lie solely in the hands of the perpetrator. Theatresauce lives up to the hype of being one of the most exciting new theatre collectives in KL, and we’re certain that in the remainder of 2018, much like a buzzing bee, their new season will continue to push at boundaries and sure to leave a sting with their upcoming devised work.

Photo Credit: Theatresauce

Performance attended: 8/2/18

The Bee plays at klpac till 11th February. Tickets available from Ticketpro

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