Surreal explorations of friendship and self.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but no one ever likes to hear someone else tell them ‘I told you so’. Even worse when that person was someone you fell out with, something new theatre company Bored Whale Theatre tackles in their debut production Unsolicited Advice From My Ex, a double bill of new work written and directed by Wisely Chow.
Held at RUMAH P7:1SMA, the set is mostly bare, with all three cast members sit in the middle of the space before the show begins. Dressed in pyjamas, it makes us wonder whether they’re ‘asleep’, and the scenarios they’re about to encounter are simply a part of their subconscious mind. They smile and embrace each other, before we begin the first play proper, Unsolicited Advice From My Ex-(Self).
In this play, Damian (Dennis Sofian) is set to meet up with Jordan (Azura Farid), an old friend he hasn’t seen in ages. But things are off to a rocky start as he shows up late to the cafe. Even if Jordan says she’s ok, one wonders if there’s some underlying tension that remains. As their conversation begins, they begin to reminisce over how neither has changed, and still see each other the same way.
It soon becomes obvious that there is very little to talk about, as an awkward silence emerges after ordering their food. Tensions grow as he realises how Jordan assumes so much about him, but somehow, instantaneously disappear when they finally hit upon something they agree on: that they miss each other, after a year of not meeting.
As they warm up to each other, he reveals that he’s been sober for two years. But before he can go on, Jordan explains that she doesn’t need an answer from him, pushing him away from an unknown question and avoiding the topic. Everything comes to light when we realise that Jordan is in fact, Damian’s ‘ex-self’, and he’s been talking to himself the entire time, trying to convince ‘her’ that things have gotten better, even while ordering several drinks for himself.
This is where the play gets messy, as a series of events and conversation happen in quick succession, as if playwright Wisely wanted to get to the end without knowing how: atmospheric, futuristic music begins to play, and we seem transported to a different world. Jordan confronts Damian about who he wants to be, to which his response is that he wants to be himself, essentially a non-decision that leads to her wondering why he hasn’t arrived at a decision.
But it seems he’s procrastinated enough, and suddenly has an epiphany, realising that he drinks to keep the ‘evil’ away, before launching into a monologue about the way he feels. Both Damian and Jordan slump to the ground, both consumed by a nightmarish feeling.
Thankfully, this doesn’t last for long – Damian describes the warmth of lentil stew, and how it cleanses one’s body. In the same way, it seems the anxiety leaves his body, and he is instead filled with the optimism of sharing his life with his friends and family. Perhaps all this while then, we’ve been here in his subconscious, as he wrestles over the nightmare that is his life, the voices in his head guiding him towards sobriety at last.
The second play, Unsolicited Advice From My Ex-(Friend) begins as Esha (Masturah Oli) wakes up to beeping, awakening from a nightmare and shaken from her sleep to see her ex-friend Diti (Azura Farid again). Both trapped in a room with no way out, their broken friendship is cause for tension, as they constantly try to converse with each other.
In figuring out how to survive, they try to find something to eat, scrapping together what little they have in the room, and learning to work together to find solutions. This seems to mend their friendship, as Esha recounts how close the two used to be, as Diti makes her tea, just the way she likes it.
This sense of happiness only increases as they begin to recall better times spent together. Throwing back to the past, the remember how they used to frequently meet at a park, at one point even catching a meteor shower together, and loving every second spent in each other’s company. Always having fun with each other, with Diti doing all she can to make Esha happy, it becomes clear that friendship can overcome any adversity.
What started out as a love-hate relationship filled with petty digs turns into a trip down a hypnotic memory lane, as they finally recall how they got trapped in the first place. They take a minute to embrace each other, making it last for as long as they can, smiling in knowing that they have each other. Even if it’s just one minute, it gives them hope to look forward to the future, as the play ends with the two still trapped.
As a first piece, Unsolicited Advice From My Ex shows Wisely’s surreal approach towards theatre, but lacks in execution. There are salient themes and ideas here that could stand to be better expressed or more focused in the writing, and could stand to benefit from dramaturgy and editing. Nonetheless, a first step into the scene should always be applauded, showing how they aren’t afraid to take a big leap of faith by putting on this show themselves, and get it off the ground to put their unique voice, style and point of view into the world.
Unsolicited Advice From My Ex played from 13th to 16th May 2021 at RUMAH P7:1SMA, Stamford Arts Centre #03-01.