Arts festival Review Singapore Theatre

★★★☆☆ Review: a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be by Koh Wan Ching and Andrew Sutherland

The future is bleak in this meandering search for meaning in the anthropocene.

As climate change causes the world to irreversibly change, it often feels like as year by year goes by, we’re stepping deeper into an absurd future where we lose all sense of who we are and what we’re living for. Tackling this strange idea of existence head on, Koh Wan Ching and Andrew Sutherland’s a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be receives a restaging with a professional cast and design team to open the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, finding its own way to counter the crushing weight of a doomed planet, and learn how to continue living when we know what we know now.

Dream-like in its approach, a line could be crossed begins as we see a woman holding a frame in her hands. She looks perplexed, perhaps thinking of the impossibility of everything fitting nicely into a frame, a wishful desire, while the disembodied voice of an ‘otter’ narrates in the background. A woman dressed in a beautiful blue gown arrives onstage, almost like a high priestess of the waters, as an otter shelters her with an umbrella, spewing absurd, poetic phrases.

As her voice fades into the background, the show segues into another narrative, as we see A (Jeramy Lim) and B (Shahid Nasheer) in a relationship. They talk about moving in together, talking fondly about each others’ sleeping habits and inner thoughts, with quotes such as “nothing in this world is serious”. The motif of sleep and dreams comes into full force when B explains his recent difficulty sleeping, disrupted by vivid dreams of his mother. Left behind as a child, he never knew her, and feels an abandonment complex. In the dream, he never sees her eyes, and one senses him longing to know how his mother truly looks like.

With this, another story unfolds, which we shall call ‘the otter story’. Otters, as the character Y (Liz Sergeant Tan) exclaims, are the ambassadors of our urban landscape world. Z, an architect (Irfan Kasban), walks up to her, and Y explains why she is acting as an artist. A believer of the ‘global weirding’, she wants the world to be in the perfect frame. The two then engage in conversation about sea turtles, otters and climate change. With A and B, Y and Z, we imagine these characters as arbitrary characters, specimens of the human race we examine under a microscope.

A sea turtle re-enacts the process of how sea turtle babies are immediately thrown into a vicious environment from the moment they hatch, fighting to survive as they crawl to the open waters. The baby sea turtle is now clad in full battle order, as he prepares to enter the “war zone”, before we see a scene that links it all back to the true story of a mother and her son.

We now find out that A is HIV-positive. Frustrated and vulnerable, he asks rhetorical questions with no answer, creating his own roadblocks to their relationship, and the couple discuss their future. Jeramy and Shahid share strong chemistry here, and bring out the emotions necessary to make their lines hit hard. In a parallel scene, we return to Y and Z similarly opening up to each other, with the two stories intertwining nicely. Change is the only constant, as Z is comforted by Y, and A and B move in together. At the heart of healing is love and relationships, learning how to compromise and push past all the difficulties.

But things quickly go awry, as Grace Kalaiselvi delivers a “lecture” about whales, and how their cortisol levels indicate their stress; do they know something we don’t? A and B realising how naive they are in their thinking about their relationship with each other. A Merlion clad in red and white enters, with a sequinned bottom glistening under the lights, reminding us we are in Singapore. We go back to the story of how B is still the baby sea turtle, still struggling to survive in this world, and the stories being told. The cast engage in an absurd song and dance number to end the performance, encapsulating the sheer strangeness confusion, and absurdity of life on full display.

With so many running narratives and so many stories to tell, a line could be crossed is often hard to wrap one’s head around and see as a completely coherent whole, even with confident, classy performances from the cast. The stories do drag and lose momentum over the performance, and one imagines that part of the show’s intent is to overload us with so much information to illustrate the complexity of life and the world around us, blurring the line between perception and understanding. Even so, with its choppy execution and flow, the bigger message is ultimately lost in the performance; a pity, as there are some poignant things it seems to want to say about how to live in the face of an impending apocalypse.

Photo credit: Rachel Lim Hue Li

a line could be crossed and you would slowly cease to be plays at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from 20th to 23rd January 2021, while the Live Stream is available from 23rd to 29th January 2021. Tickets available here

The 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs from 20th to 31st January 2021. Tickets available from SISTIC

For the first time, the Fringe is launching a special stay-home package to catch all performances at the festival via SISTIC Live. For an exclusive rate of $95, get access to all videos on demand of the Fringe performances throughout their screening periods.

Check out more information and the safety measures at venues the Fringe will be held at on their website here

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