There’s very good reason why Sharda Harrison has named her incubation platform ‘Magic Laboratory’ – sitting in the Harrisons’ front yard, sipping on drinks and chatting with other attendees, there’s some kind of magic that’s coursing through the air as we wait for their latest showcase to begin.
Utilising their home turned studio, Pink Gajah presented Alter Egos this weekend, the culmination of a sporadic nine month programme that ranged from training to conception, rehearsal to finally, presentation. Written by Euginia Tan and directed by Catherine Ho, Alter Egos sees actors John Chow and Claire Teo playing a dysfunctional couple whose initially happy relationship swiftly goes on the rocks over time.
Mentored by Sharda herself, Alter Egos is part immersive theatre experience, part movement performance. While still out in the garden, the play already begins with John Chow riding a stationery bike hung from a tree while yelling incomprehensible words. He proceeds to perform sudden falls, landing on his back before climbing up and down a stepladder leading nowhere, each subsequent climb increasingly painstaking and difficult. He introduces himself as a humble pond cleaner, and begins to tell the story of his lover, whose voice we hear wafting down from the window above.
Invited into ‘his’ house, we then watch the entire rise and fall of their doomed romance. Claire Teo slips down the stairs, worm-like as she reveals her position as a prostitute. The couple flirt – she coyly sliding down the bannister while he watches, entranced by her movements. The eventual marriage quickly falls to pieces from petty fights that explode into physical beatdowns, represented by John furiously punching the walls and performing ‘push ups’ while Claire reacts with each hit and thrust. The relationship firmly over, the two leave behind a melancholic aftertaste hanging as they return to their separate lives.
Watching the performance play out, one would never imagine that Claire Teo is in fact visually disabled. Claire appears well rehearsed, finding an uneasy, believable chemistry with John Chow as the wrestle with each other, playfully at first before erupting into ferocious, frustrated movements later on. It’s heartening to see companies like Pink Gajah giving her a platform like this to train and hone her skills, showing capabilities well beyond her disability and eschewing being defined by it, and one hopes that such an initiative can only spur Claire to continue pursuing her dreams.
Euginia Tan’s script is rife with poeticisms and unexpected metaphors – she writes of sexual awakening in both men and women and compares them to simple acts as cupping a cicada in one’s hands, capturing the essence rather than description of the feeling. It’s a language that allows the familiar story of a relationship gone sour to feel fresh, and almost dream-like in the way she wields her symbols and surrealism. Her explosive argument leading to the play’s denouement is achingly real, hitting a familiar chord more than once as John shouts while Claire lays sobbing. Moody and esoteric, Sean Harrison’s songs provide a strong melancholic edge, filling the studio space with an atmosphere that speaks of both love and loss simultaneously.
Still very much a work in progress, Alter Egos shows plenty of potential to be further developed still, given more time, focus and help from funding bodies. What Pink Gajah does is something our arts scene could do with a lot more of – allowing these young artists the space and first step to explore their ideas and grow, nurturing them with both a firm sense of professionalism and freedom to develop. New work is always welcome in the scene, and to be given a platform to create and perform it is absolutely necessary. There’s something incredibly exciting about what Pink Gajah is doing, and firmly believe that each set of artists that walks through their doors, walks away with newfound power and agency to do something so much more, and that, ultimately, is the magic you see in Magic Laboratory.
Performance attended 11/3/18 (6.30pm)
Pink Gajah’s Gajah Rumah Studio is located at 393 Joo Chiat Place. For more information on Pink Gajah and their upcoming Lab open call, follow them on Facebook