Gangguan makes their debut with a solution for climate change in search of a medium.
|Category||Score (out of 10)|
|Direction (Edward Eng)||6|
|Script (Edward Eng)||6|
|Performance (Dennis Sofian)||7|
|Lighting Design (Ian Pereira)||6|
Everyone knows the climate crisis is important. But the sheer magnitude of the climate crisis and individual paralysis in the face of institutional and government detachment can be overwhelming. How then can we process it and all the resulting emotions, while ensuring that we make some kind of impact with our own actions? New theatre collective Gangguan Theatre knows this dilemma, and addresses it head on in their debut production The Change.
Written and directed by Edward Eng, The Change stars Dennis Sofian as Alex, an economist and civil servant facing several crises – the ever-looming threat of climate change and how little authorities are doing to counter it, along with a death in the family. Dennis also plays Danial, a househusband and Alex’s friend/collaborator, where the two work together on a “performance-lecture” about climate change in Singapore, to be presented as part of the Singapore Pavilion at an upcoming conference. As the presentation date looms ever closer, the two grapple with how best to structure their performance-lecture and address the issues at hand, while Alex steadily descends into psychosis, accompanied by lucid nightmares, disturbing figures, and ‘activists’ who offer only complaints without solution.
Backed up by a multitude of scientific facts, keen research into current affairs and global policies, alongside a smattering of economics and moral philosophy, The Change is nothing if not overwhelming for any audience member expecting to be eased into the issues at hand. The Change is relentless in beating us over the head with undeniable hard truths, be it regarding the hypocrisies of a certain bank’s greenwashing campaign, developed countries masquerading as developing nation to avoid paying funds, or casually-set net-zero goals far into the future which frankly, seem impossible given the ever-increasing carbon emissions year on year.
All this makes for a challenging performance for any actor to take on. As the sole actor onstage, Dennis Sofian does his best to fulfil the script’s demands, pouring manic rage into Alex’s increasingly frenzied explanations as he scribbles equations and graphs onto a blackboard. As his mental state declines, conversely, the energy output rises, at one point even finding himself yelling at a stuffed toy he believes to be Greta Thunberg, chastising her for being able to criticise politicians without offering people any feasible solutions, while cowering in fear as she recites her famous lines.
The rare times Dennis does get a breather is when he shifts into playing the more resigned Danial, which, while the less developed character of the two, acts as the more chill, level-headed take on the climate-crisis, and speaking in stories and beauty. Dennis also gets a chance to show off other skills, such as his physical control when playing a skittish, plastic-bag-eating deer from the future, or when puppeteering doll-Greta on a steam iron. There are times however, that Dennis stumbles over some lines and feels as if he does not fully transition between characters, adopting almost the exact same voice for both that makes them feel like two halves of the same man, rather than distinct characters on their own.
The Change is entertaining and urgent enough that it sustains our attention in the initial scenes, but through these overwhelming barrage of facts, it also quickly creates a degree of fatigue for both audience and performer. This comes out especially when Alex’s rants verge on repetitive, and the script begins to feel cyclical and covering familiar ground. In addition, The Change also makes an occasional dip into meta-theatre, and features moments where Dennis breaks character and takes on the points of view of Edward, and even stage manager Samzy Jo, as they reflect on their own thoughts about the play and climate change. While interesting from a postmodern standpoint, these not only take us out of the immersion, but also seem to break Dennis’ own return to character again, on top of an already demanding and lengthy script.
As a form of low-budget, fringe theatre, The Change does its best even within its limitations, with minimal props and an almost bare set, save for a blackboard that doubles as a mirrored surface on the other side, and an ironing board and stepladder that serve multiple purposes throughout. Lighting designer Ian Pereira ensures Dennis is always well-lighted when he needs to be, bathing him in evocative blue ‘moonlight’ while chatting at the beach, or utilising a fairly accurate torchlight as a makeshift follow spot.
The Change is an ambitious play that, like most works that tackle the climate crisis, makes a bold attempt to incorporate every issue associated with it in order to provide a total and complete image. In so doing, there is a deliberate attempt to create a sense of exhaustion over the ‘doomer’ notions in the lead-up to its denouement, one that leads us to feeling fear and panic over our dying planet, and the indifference or lack of urgency towards saving it. But this is no hopeless Don’t Look Up, and while fighting an extended battle with itself to find the right way of putting it, does eventually lead to providing a solution in plain and simple language (while sneaking in a few jabs at POFMA and crackdowns on protests).
With their debut, Gangguan makes it clear that they are unafraid to speak their truth and spread it to whoever attends a show, with an urgent message told through an imaginative, if lengthy, script that hits the occasional raw nerve. The Change is a loud yet tentative step into the scene for Gangguan, still needing more refinement in their staging and dramaturgical feedback in editing the script, but makes it clear that they have something they want to say in addressing topical issues that matter.
Photo Credit: Yong Junyi
The Change plays from 7th to 11th December 2022 at Cairnhill Arts Centre (Teater Kami). More information available here, with tickets available from Eventbrite
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