Arts Review Singapore Theatre

★★★☆☆ Review: Ransom by A Mirage

Kidnapping gone wrong leads to closer look at class and racial tensions.

Kidnappings in Singapore are few and far between, so when one happens, it’s almost always a matter of national interest. But beyond the tension derived from rescuing a hostage, what if a kidnapping was viewed from the kidnapper’s point of view, and used as a means to understand class differences?

First developed under Jalan Besar Salon’s 2020 Radical Transparency open call, Euginia Tan’s Ransom finally receives a staging, as the last play in A Mirage’s pop-up pub theatre series at Projector X: Riverside. Directed by Hazwan Norly, Ransom is all about an unusual kidnapping situation, where no one is willing to hand over the demanded ransom for the hostage.

The reason for this? It turns out the hostage is a bit of an asshole, by the name of Estelle Ong (Dana Lam), whose own daughter isn’t willing to part with more than $300 for the return of her mother. This proves to be a bit of a conundrum for kidnapper Haikal (Saifuddin Jumadi), who needs quite a bit more than that to pay for various expenses and help his family get by.

Over the course of the play, the already strange situation becomes even odder, as kidnapper and hostage end up working together to fetch a higher random amount, as they call various contacts in Estelle’s list. None of them are particularly helpful, each one either more concerned with their own schedule or taking the opportunity to further their own agenda, such as earning even more money from Estelle. It’s an absurdly bleak conundrum that ends up in a stalemate, as Estelle and Haikal give up on the plot altogether.

While that ridiculous premise is primarily played for laughs, Ransom‘s true intention lies in the banter between hostage and kidnapper, which often ends up the main point of contention and where the play gets most heated. Early on, there are already hints of how the two will clash, with Estelle repeatedly misnaming Haikal, and behaving like a spoilt woman, getting what she wants by throwing money at the problem.

Eventually, the conversation escalates into a full on conflict, as the tables turn and Estelle dominates the room, going from victim to bully. Dana Lam’s performance never quite captures the potential of her character, but Euginia Tan’s words are enough to leave an impact, and creates a degree of shock when Estelle begins to viciously beat down on Haikal, taunting him for his inability to provide for his family, to the point she even blatantly insults him, by offering to adopt his children for him.

Euginia also resolves the initially problematic optics of having a minority character resort to crime, subverting it by creating ever-increasing sympathy for Haikal, testament to Saifuddin Jumadi’s performance. Never menacing and often put in a position where he’s at his wit’s end, Haikal’s backstory of being poor in a capitalist world is a familiar, but effective one. Saifuddin nails the comedic moments with his exasperated sighs and outbursts when Estelle proves annoying, and reacts with genuine anger when triggered by her words, knowing she’s right but unwilling to give up his honour as a father.

Ransom‘s script does require a degree of revision and suspension of disbelief, with paper-thin side characters to drive the plot forward, and characters that seem to do one eighty degree pivots, but by suspending one’s disbelief, it eventually rewards viewers with a feasible, if somewhat simplified, look at class relations and tensions through a unique lens. Most of all, the play ends on a satisfactory note, with a predictable but delicious final twist that delivers delicious comeuppance for the true antagonist, and the closest thing one can get to a happy ending.

Ransom ran from 1st to 5th September 2022 at Projector X: Riverside. More information here

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