Arts malaysia online Preview Theatre

Review: BODY X The Culprit (George Town Festival 2021)

A digital whodunnit that captures the thrill of live theatre.

One of the most unique aspects of live theatre that differentiates it from film, is how no matter how many times you watch it, there’s always something new to discover, whether it’s the way actors say a line, or the energy levels of the audience during the performance.

Watching BODY X The Culprit for the second time then, and still feeling that rush of excitement, is testament to how much thought and effort the team has put into effectively transposing the live experience to the digital medium, and the sheer quality of such a production.

Perhaps our enjoyment stems partly from the fact that we’ve already seen BODY X The Culprit, and are familiar with the gameplay format, making our experience that much smoother. Presented on Zoom, audience members are tasked to resolve the case of a murder that took place in the 80s. The victim: a man (Alvin Chiam), found dead at his regular haunt, a neighbourhood kopitiam, lying face down with a newspaper over his face.

The police have identified a total of five possible murderers – the kopitiam towkay (Oliver Chong), his sister the cleaner (Doreen Toh), the kopi auntie (Judy Ngo), the noodle stall owner (Kwan Chun Long) and the beer girl (Jo Kwek). Reading their statements and watching the events of the night unfold, audience members are to draw their own conclusion as to who committed the crime.

BODY X The Culprit feels engaging primarily because of the degree of freedom audience members are given to explore the scene, further emphasising the role we play as detectives. After the body is discovered, throughout the show, audience members have the option to ‘visit’ other sections of the kopitiam to eavesdrop on each suspect, sussing out their alibis and motives before making a judgment call.

As an online experience, BODY X The Culprit immerses us well in the story. The cast is a highlight, with each actor committing to their roles, keeping it naturalistic without resorting to overacting so we believe fully in their predicaments. This isn’t easy to do; even from beyond the computer screen, we feel tensions rise whenever the victim gets into a drunken argument with one of the kopitiam staff, or, of note, Judy Ngo when she expresses her rage by violently chipping away at an ice block. In addition, with the sepia filter and filmography that makes it seem as if we’re physically present at each scene, and realistic sound effects, there is an uneasy atmosphere throughout the show. The editing and post-production, in short, works well to make us anxious to find out the culprit.

With everything happening in ‘real time’, our choices are vital; hanging around at the noodle stall too long could mean we miss a vital conversation at the cashier counter. In this edition of the show, the team have now included a flashing ‘X’ at the corner of the screen to indicate when a character is leaving the scene, making it easier for us to follow their entire storyline over the night. But no matter what you do though, you cannot possibly watch every single scene in a single viewing.

That’s where the cooperative play comes in – after the main narrative is over, audience members are given 20 minutes to gather and discuss their findings, allowing us to learn about the scenes we missed. It makes for an interesting social experiment, especially by observing how similar the primarily Malaysian audience responds compared to the Singaporean one we witnessed the first time, such as audience members asking for the discussion to be held in English, or peppering the discussion with little jokes, but all of whom were dedicated to resolving the case.

Ultimately, audience members must make a group vote as to who to accuse of the crime. For our night, the results were incredibly divided, showing how convincing each of the suspects were, or how the discussion yielded very little to convince us all of a single viewpoint. As with the original, the results will only be released a week later, so all audience members get a chance to play without being spoiled, but really, the appeal of BODY X The Culprit isn’t the reveal – it’s the thrill of the chase. Even with a deluge of digital mysteries that have emerged over the last year, BODY X The Culprit still stands out as one of the best in the business with its originality, its attention to gameplay, and its ability to keep us engaged throughout.

BODY X The Culprit runs from 10th to 18th July 2021 online, as part of George Town Festival 2021. Tickets available here

George Town Festival 2021 runs from 10th to 18th July 2021. For more information, visit georgetownfestival.com or follow George Town Festival on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates.

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