In taking on the mantle of the entire future of theatre from one’s predecessors, it is understandable that one would feel trepidation and anxiety at living up to the precedents set by them, or want to establish a new standard and stake one’s claim in the history of theatre.
NUS’ latest batch of Theatre Studies students attempts to tackle just that issue in a project birthed from their Theatre Studies Lab. Titled Hana, the work is co-devised by the massive cast of 11 actors and director Ang Gey Pin, and sees the cast take on the roles as members of the Seagull Branch of a fictitious Theatre Factory, discontent at how the art they create has become routine and uninspiring. In an attempt to remedy that, Hana takes the form of a public meeting, as they fight to express their voices anew and chart a brave new path for theatre of the future.
As ambitious as it is, Hana unfortunately fails to deliver in its execution, feeling as if the devising process became far too caught up in the theory while forgetting to create a watchable piece of theatre for an audience, or even wind up with a strong conclusion. Much of the piece feels self-indulgent, with scenes that feel like pseudo-intellectual ventures leading to nowhere, and ultimately, might better have been left as a type of self-reflective class exercise rather than a public production. In attempting to be self-reflexive, many scenes sound more like passing stray thoughts and come off as pretentious, rather than fully formed lines of argument contributing to a final message. One particularly worrisome segment features the cast writing improvised letters on the spot expressing their love and appreciation for the theatre having given them a voice and a space to express themselves; certainly, this is a touching moment for them to finally speak from their hearts, but seemed out of place and cemented that Hana was a piece devised for their own sakes rather than with the intent to be watchable and meaningful for an audience.
There are moments where Hana displays some theatrical potential, such as good navigation of the large space afforded by the UCC Theatre, with the cast never allowing themselves to be dwarfed by its depth. They even manage to make the audience feel like a part of the play, with occasional participatory elements such as inviting audience members to find a seat on the stage and adjust their ‘perception’. In addition, some of the actors stand out from the others: Eugene Koh has grown over the years to become a confident performer onstage, with clear enunciation and control over his body, while Ranice Tay excelled in her articulation and strength in the way she carried herself onstage, Finally, Hakeem Hussein, as an experienced dancer, showed finesse and precision in his movements. With a little more guidance and training, all three of them have a bright future ahead in theatre.
At the end of Hana, we left the theatre with disappointment in our hearts. Hana feels woefully incomplete and misguided, and overall unprepared and unready for production. As enthusiastic and energetic as these youths may be, there is a long and arduous journey ahead for them, with a need for better mentors and guidance if they truly seek to craft theatre that is worth watching.
Performance attended 3/4/18
Hana plays at the NUS UCC from 3rd – 4th April. Tickets available here