Arts Review Singapore

SIFA 2019: Bedtime Stories by URLAND (Review)


Let the power of stories map your dreams.

One of the fondest memories of our childhoods is listening to our parents tell us a story before tucking us in to bed. Falling asleep, our dreams would be filled with gallant knights and life changing adventures, dreams we’d rarely want to wake up from. With reality often being far more droll than the world of fantasy and imagination, it stands to reason then that audiences would naturally be drawn towards Dutch collective URLAND’s Bedtime Stories, seeking to relive the comfort and magic of childhood through the art of storytelling.

Playing as part of the 2019 Singapore International Festival of Arts, Bedtime Stories takes inspiration from radio plays of yore, with performer Thomas Dudkiewicz relying only on his voice to bring his stories and seemingly endless stream of characters to life. Gathering at the National Library before being taken to the secret, outdoor performance venue, Bedtime Stories is framed by the narrative of a precocious young girl who is told a story each night before bed, setting us up for the tales Dudkiewicz has prepared for the night.

Dudkiewicz begins by putting up one finger, as if signalling to us that the performance is about to begin, With the lights beaming down on him, the audience gathered under the stars in the outdoor performance space, it’s surprisingly easy to let go of our worries and allow ourselves to enter Dudkiewicz’s world. With 360 degree surround sound speakers, the moment Dudkiewicz opens his mouth to speak, we are enclosed fully in his realm and drawn in completely by his voice. Key to immersing ourselves into this performance is sound artist Tomas Loos’ evocative soundscape, allowing Dudkiewicz’s world to become fully realized, almost three-dimensional with the sound of raindrops or rushing winds, so real we can imagine feeling it on our bare skin.

As Dudkiewicz regales us with one story after another, one cannot help but be amazed by how Dudkiewicz is able to present his massive roster of characters across the tales, differentiating clearly between each one by giving them distinct voices and personalities with his speech and emotive facial expressions. There are times we swear he morphs from a man locked in grim determination to an innocent child filled with purity, the very soul and essence of his characters emanating from his performance and manifesting before us.

Yet, at the heart of each story is not mere entertainment and wonder, but something far more powerful, something undeniably human that makes us ache with sorrow or awaken a newfound sense of vigour. Linked by the common thread of family (including the framing story itself), we discover the double-edged sword of love, learn to appreciate the hidden strength we never knew we had, and ultimately, find the value and power of stories we might have forgotten en route to growing up.

We feel nothing but admiration for the sheer amount of skill and technical prowess that goes into making such a deceptively simple one-man show an event to remember, thankful for SIFA’s varied programme that invites and organises for such a rare and powerful work to play in Singapore and enchant us all with the magic of the oral tradition. Walking away, we realise this is not an ending, but perhaps, the beginning of remembering and reconnecting with our childhood joys, and that the key to doing that lies with seven simple words: “It was a dark and lonesome night…”

Photo Credit: Joachem Jurgens

Performance attended 21/5/19

Bedtime Stories runs from 21st to 26th May 2019 at a secret venue. Tickets are sold out.  

The 2019 Singapore International Festival of the Arts runs across various venues from 16th May to 2nd June 2019. For more information and the full lineup of shows, visit their website 

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