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Review: a line could be crossed and you would cease to be by Intercultural Theatre Institute

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Gorgeous, intimate play examining climate change.

In the Intercultural Theatre Institute’s (ITI) new production, the latest batch of graduating students tackle the ever-looming issue of climate change with Australian playwright Andrew Sutherland’s a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be. Directed by Koh Wan Ching (known for arresting, colourful visuals), the oblique, wandering text is given gorgeous form as the play throws us overboard into a world where climate change discourse is the only thing worth fearing and making conversation about. 

Loosely structured around three narratives, a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be follows a Filipino-Singaporean couple in a rocky relationship as they discuss the meaning of their dreams and the decision to stay or leave; a second couple, fresh from a classic meet-cute, who talk about the nature of sea turtles and memory loss incidents experienced by the man after surviving a lightning strike; and a budding wildlife spotter who just can’t seem to get a picture of the Bishan otters. All three narratives are loosely bound by the overarching tale of a baby sea turtle, newly hatched and facing the sea for the first time. 

Sutherland’s script tends to meander at times, with the scenes ebbing and flowing as the play progresses. But as dream-like as it is, the play is quite simple to follow once the rules of this world are accepted. Over the course of the work, the script explores different humanistic threads of how we feel about climate change. The key idea in the play is to bring out the paralysing fear brought on by the issue’s scale, represented plainly by the sea turtle hatchling facing the wide ocean. In between, we fear loss, change and a depletion of meaning, all of which are human experiences not altogether unfamiliar to us beyond the new reality of impending environmental catastrophe. 

Most importantly, a line could be crossed never comes across as preachy; it eschews public statement in favour of letting fear branch into a million niggling feelings of dread. Earnest Hope Tinambacan’s character lies awake at night to watch the precise moment his boyfriend, played gruffly by guest performer Jeramy Lim, falls asleep. With the other couple – the female (Regina Toon) can hardly believe her stiff-but-loving architect boyfriend (guest performer Jey Lim Jun Jie) has forgotten all that’s happened last night. These pieces fold together with empathy, forgiving each character’s shortcomings (and ours by extension). 

Perhaps though, there are times the play is too kind on its characters, which may give the unintended takeaway that we are right in feeling our inability to do anything about climate change. After all, it is dangerous to be paralysed into inaction. Even if our individual tolls on the environment are insignificant, ethicists and experts say the morally responsible thing we must do is effect change through collective action, something a line could be crossed never delves into the possibility of.    

But that, of course, is not the intention of Koh and Sutherland’s very successful play, which seeks to clearly see the state of things rather than act. This is a staging that is brilliant and bright for the seeing, with great gasps of light and sound (from designers Jason Ng and Pung Ki May respectively) anchoring each movement. It is also mostly brisk, only slowing to a glacial pace at the ending where all lovers are frozen in place. The choir, which started the play with a hazy space princess in tow, now sings by itself with crystalline courage.

By Edward Eng for Bakchormeeboy

Performance attended 7/9/19 (Matinee)

a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be played from 5th to 7th September 2019 at the Drama Centre Black Box. 

 

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