Arts Review Singapore Theatre

★★☆☆☆ Review: The Lobby by Impromptu Meetings

Absurdist theatre meets social commentary.

Having made their debut in 2021 with The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming, and a follow-up in September with The Staff Room, it seemed for a while that Impromptu Meetings had found their niche online, making use of Zoom functions to create unique, interactive digital productions bringing a little light to the pandemic era. However, come December, the collective has shown that they want to go beyond the screen and take on the world, with their brand new show and live theatre debut, The Lobby.

Compared to their previous two light-hearted productions, The Lobby takes on a decidedly more serious topic, this time tackling issues of class and labour. Directed and written by Adeeb Fazah, The Lobby follows two workers – receptionist Abby (Miriam Cheong) and chambermaid Min Lee (Cheryl Tan Yun Xin), working at a cheap hostel. Both working the graveyard shift, things take a strange turn when Abby brings in a huge number of bags, with no clue who the guests are. The mystery only deepens as their manager asks them to lock up for the night, and they discover that one of the bags is stuffed full of cash. Not wanting to create trouble, the two of them put their greed aside and attempt to kill time till it’s time to knock off.

What The Lobby gets right is in creating a deeply unsettling atmosphere as the two women wait, as reflected in Mark Benedict Cheong’s set design. It is clear that the hostel is in a poor state, with furniture covered in tarp and white cloth, as if the building is undergoing major repainting and renovation works. Similarly, the rose pink flooring and mint green double doors suggest cheap, tasteless accommodation, and together, it creates an almost unwelcome, unliveable space. There is a curious sense of quietude and emptiness when the two women aren’t talking, while lamps mysteriously flicker on and off, suggesting something almost otherworldly at work.

Beyond the set design, The Lobby attempts to create a sense of unease through the tension between the two women with their stark differences in personality, leading to some awkward interactions as they get to know each other. Min Lee immediately establishes herself as a playful, simple girl, constantly attempting to inject fun into her work, from folding sheets into cute shapes, to coaxing Abby to play games with her. Abby, on the other hand, is a more ‘serious’ employee, attempting to do her best to get a promotion, and speaks in a more refined way, spending time reading books despite what one might assume, from her not finishing school.

When they finally share their backstories with each other, the two begin to bond over their shared poverty, and how they find it hard to dream of ever breaking past their circumstances. Individually, both actresses understand their characters and embody them well, even garnering a sense of pity from audience members. Cheryl’s voice is loud and at times petulant, her child-like energy frenetic as she darts about the stage, while Miriam proves a good foil – stoic, measured in her tone, and almost always establishing dominance and control. But with such a large part of the play hinging on the two women’s friendship, it is to The Lobby’s detriment that the onstage chemistry between Cheryl and Miriam is lacking, and it becomes hard to believe that they would bond over their similar situation alone, let alone imagine going to school together.

Plot-wise, The Lobby is rather interesting, seemingly taking a leaf from absurd theatre such as Wating For Godot. The two women are waiting for a manager that never shows, play games with each other, and ponder over life. Perhaps then, it is a good thing that the script chooses to eventually break this, having the two women ignoring the cash, and instead fantasising over what they’d do if they were rich. The antics that results from this sidetrack are amusing, even endearing, both actresses fully committed to playing their roles with as much gusto as possible, whether it’s pretending to be superstars staging a concert in a stadium, or mashing up famous movie quotes. Daryl Norman Soh’s lighting design does wonders here, bathing the set in a dreamy blue glow, while LED lights along the doors are programmed such that they almost seem to be responding to each new scene the two employees come up with.

However, because of how irrelevant the cash is to the plot, much of the play feels extraneous, and completely reliant on an unexpected friendship that still needs more to feel fully fleshed out. One appreciates how Impromptu Meetings is pushing themselves in terms of their ambition, attempting to capitalise on all three members’ experience in theatre to transit from online to real life. But when all the elements are cobbled together, The Lobby feels like it did not fully consider the journey it wanted to take its audiences on, often leaving us frustrated with how its ideas were never fully developed.

Going down a darker, more absurd route than their previous two internet outings, The Lobby is a good attempt from Impromptu Meetings to present more mature, socially grounded work. But if the team is to bring their vision to reality, then there is still some way to go before learning to smooth out their execution and scripting, to ensure a stronger delivery of The Lobby’s sobering message about how efforts to change one’s circumstances are ultimately, futile.

Photo Credit: Ever Light Studio SG

The Lobby played from 3rd to 6th December 2021 at Goodman Arts Centre Black Box.

1 comment on “★★☆☆☆ Review: The Lobby by Impromptu Meetings

  1. Pingback: Critiquing From Within: “The Lobby” by Impromptu Meetings – Gee Dock Convos

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