Arts festival Review Singapore Theatre

★★★☆☆ Review: Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys by Brian Gothong Tan and NAFA

The youth of today grapple with difficult world issues.

Are the youth of today as ‘woke’ as they think they are? Directed by Brian Gothong Tan and written by Nabilah Said, Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys features the BA (Hons) Theatre Arts students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) as they perform in this show exploring some of the world’s most significant social and political traumatic upheavals, namely, the Hong Kong riots, the Arab Spring and Thai cave rescue.

The performance opens with the Hong Kong segment of the show, as the cast gets up and dances to Aaron Kwok’s I Love You Forever. The streets of Hong Kong manifest onscreen, and it seems like we are transported to the city itself, as the students (dressed in school uniforms) dance their way to the night markets.

Primarily a movement piece, we watch a conversation between Fidelio and Rose, while the rest of the ensemble holds up umbrellas, alluding to the Umbrella Movement, while ominous music playing in the background. Nostalgia fills us as visuals of old Hong Kong flood the screen, while Japanese music plays in the background, with a rather unexpected set of literal subtitles projected under it, the content surprising for such a catchy song. As the theatre is now filled with announcements from the MTR station and the familiar sounds of trams ringing their bells, we are informed of when Hong Kong was returned to China, setting the scene for the political turmoil to come.

We now turn our attention to a coffee shop in a residential area, as a group of youths plan their next attack to protest with molotov cocktails, while the coffee shop owners want no part of it, simply carrying on with life as usual. But the truth is, in a riot, there is no choice who gets spared, and everyone in the vicinity simply collateral damage.

As a student steps forward to film a video to rally the protesters, with Brian’s visuals help bring out the message of not backing down in the best way possible. We watch the videos, showcasing each protestor wearing different types of mask, ranging from sinister looking masks to gas masks, showcasing how all these different individuals are coming together for a common cause. The riots are now imminent, about to become a widespread phenomenon, and Brian’s visuals the events that went down at CUHK to life, showing the violence wrought and casualties incurred in the fight for freedom. We wonder if perhaps it takes someone to die for everyone to finally reconsider whether it was all worth it.

In the Arab Spring storyline, we find ourself in the depths of a dungeon, and a character onstage is clearly restrained and in pain, representing what it feels like to be stuck in the corrupt system under dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. A satirised version of Zine himself arrives onstage, with his curly hair while being confined to a wheelchair, painted gold to further amplify his ridiculous image.

A youth band appears, armed with drums and instruments and calling themselves LOA (‘Lawless of Arabia’, parodying Lawrence of Arabia). We see how these youths are fighting in their own way, not with guns and bullets, but with music and poetry to speak out against their despotic ruler. We are again reminded of how the youths of today desire a voice, and are willing to fight for that right to speak.

Turning the spotlight towards the media, we wonder how much of what is reported can be taken as the truth, and how much of it is just sensationalised or worse – fake news. By the end of the Arab Spring segment, we are left thinking about how the dead leave only horrifying stories for survivors to tell, the fear and trauma from that affecting those still alive today.

Finally, we move on to the last story, where we see the cast donning soccer jerseys, representing the Thai students trapped in a cave. Experimenting with different mediums, the cast even uses puppets to represent some of the students who had to go through the ordeal, and think about the boys’ desperate need to survive.

Trapped in the cave, they are only given a glimpse of what’s happening outside, while we become privy to how their parents and the public pray for their safe return. With the Thais being deeply religious, we see images of sutras and deities on the screens, depicting how everyone is furiously praying for the boys’ safe return. While all this is happening, we watch a ‘news report’ as a journalist interviews a Thai person in English, and hear them respond back in (Thai-accented) English. An interpreter then alters what is said, distorting the meaning behind the original response. Information is so easily misrepresented and lost in translation, and what we say or do is fully dependent on us being able to communicate what we want, without a middleman misinterpreting our words.

Back to the boys, there is a sigh of relief as it seems the prayers have worked, and they meet some form of divine intervention, where a “princess” glides around the cave and provides some form of comfort and kept sane as they wait. As the students and their coach contemplate their future, they are finally saved by divers, and faith pulls through. But what follows is more cross-examination of the media, with several headlines showcasing how just about everyone wanted to capitalise on the incident and gain some kind or any kind of media coverage by getting in on the act, from religious groups to putting it on the cover page next to England’s 2018 World Cup run, all trying to steal the spotlight and piggyback off the attention.

As a whole, Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys shows us exactly how much havoc and chaos is present today, as seen through these global events so closely watched by the rest of the world. Kudos goes to director Brian and playwright Nabilah Said for trying to bring out the performer in each student and pushing them to discover themselves as actors. However, while the students were ready and well-prepared to tackle such a difficult piece, it was perhaps overly ambitious to want them all to tackle three very different nationalities across three distinct stories. While it was great to see the variety of perspectives, it was a stretch to get them to speak Cantonese, become Middle Eastern, and even adopt Thai accents, all in one show.

Ultimately, we see just how important it is to Gen Z to have a voice and see justice mete out, and how irresponsible journalism only worsens these problems and selfish news outlets only want the scoop, choosing sensationalism over truth. It’s no wonder the youth of today have become ‘havoc girls and kamikaze boys’ with all the frustration they have with the world.

Photo credit: Memphis West Pictures/Joe Nair 

Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys played from 21st to 24th January 2021 at the NAFA Studio Theatre, and streams from 24th to 29th January 2021 as part of the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. 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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