★★☆☆☆ (Performance attended 5/12/19)
New theatre collective shows potential, but lacks clear direction in this original triptych wandering and wondering about the nature of modern love.
It’s never too late in the year to make a debut, and for The Assembly Point, December is as good a time as any to make their start on the local theatre scene, with their brand new, original work Affections.
Co-directed by Jeramy Lim and Cheryl Tan Yun Xin, and written by Lim, Affections takes inspiration from American playwright Chuck Mee’s Big Love and Limonade Tous les Jours, and follows three narratives all revolving around the theme of love. Throughout Affections, we see love come under attack. Culled in part from local anecdotes, the stories and themes of Affections go beyond simple romances, with clandestine relationships revealed, a one night stand suggesting the beginnings of something more, and a long term relationship in questions. The characters and situations we encounter are varied; we meet V (Tia Andrea Guttensohn), a pop star whose lover comes under fire when the fans disapprove, Andrew (Jeramy Lim), a man who embarks on a holiday fling with Airbnb host Yaya (Fatin Syahirah) when he escapes to Bali, and Lydia (Jelaine Ng), a bride who is overcome by cold feet on the day of her wedding as she questions whether she truly loves her fiance.
The stage set-up is simple; playing at Teater Ekamatra’s Greymatter space, the set comprises just a length of pink carpet and silvery bunches of shiny, helium balloons, with the audience members seated on either side of the carpet. Decidedly minimalist, transitions between scenes are bereft of music or lighting changes, with characters exiting and entering from the wings. While this allows all three stories to feel more cohesive by playing within the same abstract space, more often than not, there are transitions that feel just a little too long in-between, and with the lack of audio or lighting support, empty and thin.
There are interesting, original ideas raised across all three narratives, many of which are expressed through lengthy, philosophical musings from each character. While these make for great thought-pieces, the length of each line tends to detract from the inherent drama of each piece, dragging out conversations that might have benefited from sharper, snappier dialogue instead. Given that Affections attempts to tell three separate stories over the course of 80 minutes, constantly shifting between all three narratives, this also affects the development of each character, where audience members are thrust into situations which leaves little time to appreciate or feel for each one. Individually, most of the characters are defined by their situations more so than their own personality, with the exception of Yaya, who shows herself to be refreshingly liberal and open in her views about sex despite being a recent widow, and Fatin’s performance here, complete with believable Balinese accent, being a highlight of the show.
For the most part however, Affections feels oddly muted for a show that’s about love, and many of the scenes feel as if the actors are holding back, or restraining their emotions. In the opening sequence for example, V (Guttensohn) lip syncs to various pop numbers in an attempt to start the show on a high note, but there is an uncertainty and hesitation to it that betrays her external appearance as an experienced artist with two albums out and has embarked on a world tour. Kudos to the cast for managing so many quick changes as they shift between scenes and characters throughout the show, along with the occasional genuinely funny moments, but overall, with the low energy, it was difficult to invest in any of the characters’ storylines, leaving elements such as Andrew’s final sweeping gesture of love feel unearned and contrived rather than a natural progression.
Affections is a work that seems to have been caught up in its own head, attempting to present a piece that was rooted more in ideas than performance. It’s a valiant debut production from The Assembly Point, but required stronger direction and development to really leave an impact or add something new to the never-ending discourse on love, even by the time we reach the final scene where V reveals herself to be the literal goddess of love. These snapshots of modern love are fun but ultimately frivolous and fleeting, and going forward, The Assembly Point needs to find a clearer direction they hope to go in and a stronger reason for their productions to prove themselves deserving of our affections.
Affections played from 5th to 7th December 2019 at Greymatter at Aliwal Arts Centre.