Arts Review Theatre

Review: The Peculiar Tra La by Intercultural Theatre Institute

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Tapping into childhood myth and memory to showcase a new graduating cohort.

With each new year comes a new batch of ITI graduates to be, with 2019 bringing with it a bumper crop of 10 students (Earnest Hope Tinambacan, Jalal Albaroudi, Jin Chen, Regina Toon, Ted Nudgent Fernandez Tac-an, Theresa Wee-Yenko, Tysha Khan, Vignesh Singh, Wendy Toh and Nour el Houda Essafi) as they embark on their final year of training and their first full public performance with The Peculiar Tra La.

Directed by Ang Gey Pin, co-created with dramaturg Ranice Tay and devised by the cast, The Peculiar Tra La takes audiences into a liminal space between time and memory itself, as the cast weaves together mythological epics, childhood games and stories to present memory itself in a theatrical manner. Breaking from theatrical convention, the performance begins not in the Drama Centre Black Box itself, but the foyer outside, where the cast begins interacting with the audience as they play ‘games’ and mentally prepare us to enter the eponymous ‘peculiar tra la’ as we enter the black box and are welcomed into this unusual world.

The usual proximity and boundaries between performers and audience are broken – instead of the usual performance space/audience space divide, we are gathered in a circle around the performers, encouraged to leave our worries behind as we are immersed more intimately into the performance. While minimally designed, the centre of the circle features a single prop – a table carved up as if it were some kind of doorway to another realm, simple yet visually evocative as we imagine it as a portal of limitless potential and possibility.

Primarily a movement-based work that follows the journey of Tra la or rather the world he belongs to, the multilingual production is performed in a mix of English, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese dialects and more, as the actors don masks and narrate epic tales, from legends originating from the Ramayana to Chinese war heroine Fa Mulan, telling of clashes between armies, of gods, deities and cunning animal heroes. Despite the myriad tales each having their own origins, the characters and actors occasionally ‘bickering’ with each other, what The Peculiar Tra La advocates is harmony amidst differences, somehow finding common ground despite their differences in language and their similar admiration for good stories.

Even when the cast ‘returns’ to the regular world, there is the sense that through the peculiar tra la, they’ve each tapped into their innocent childhood selves to rediscover something previously forgotten within themselves, a sense of peace and unity amidst all their problems. This act of reflection, of cultural exchange and interactivity is perhaps the cornerstone of ITI itself as these seemingly disparate people come together and create a single cohesive performance together. The peculiar but utopian tra la then, is an aspirational place for us all, as we attempt to find a moment of calm within the otherwise chaotic world, with comfort and joy stemming from our interactions and sharing with others, and the power of stories and nostalgia key to achieving that.

Performance attended 14/3/19

The Peculiar Tra La runs from 14th to 16th March 2019 at the Drama Centre Black Box. Tickets available from Peatix

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