BWW Review: PETTY PEOPLE by NUS Theatre Studies 2017 at Yale-NUS Black Box
Petty People by NUS Theatre Studies Class of 2017
Directed by Thong Pei Qin
Produced by Nora Samosir
Devised & Performed by National University of Singapore (NUS) Theatre Studies Class of 2017
(Chang Hui Ling, Cheryl Wee, Christer Jon Aplin, Cordelia Lee, Fadhil Daud, Kenneth Chia, Michael Ng, Nicholas Tan, Nikki Lim, Pearl Wee, Perry Felix Shen, Teresa Chen)
If art were to mimic human nature, then the beautiful must exist alongside the grotesque. Directed by NUS Theatre Studies alumnus and Saga Seed Theatre's Associate Director Thong Pei Qin, the production examines human's inclinations for petty grievances via intertwined narratives, which centres on a very unusual premise: a dead dog's tail continues to incessantly wag.
There are four scenarios at hand: The vet is distressed by the dog's death; a Malay girl who found the dead dog insists to her religious teacher that it is a reincarnation of her dead brother; the dog owner fights with his mother that she must foot the bill for the medium to contact the dog's spirit no matter the cost; and the dog owner's father is a paranoid scientist who insists the dog is part of a surveillance conspiracy against him. As the plot develops, it unravels these characters' pettiness in dealing with the event. It turns the play on its head: it is less about the dog, than it is about the human drama. Interestingly, a supporting character, Jane, hovers on the fringes of each scene, bearing silent witness to the on goings of the play. Jane is embodied by three different actresses each of whom are wearing a cobalt blue wig and thick cat eyeliner. A quiet presence, she is compelling in her aloofness and mystery, and exists on a different plane of reality. It is a pity that this character does not get expanded throughout the course of the play.
Structurally, it is straightforward. The first half of the play fleshes out each narrative thread which then culminates in full blown hysteria and outrage as arguments escalate. The second half witnesses the characters' devolution from supposedly rational beings to feral animals. Although the transition from first half to second half was clearly delineated, the production lacked a unity of style. Offering a buffet of theatrical styles: from musical elements, to absurdism, to use of multimedia (featuring an iconic scene from surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1929) no less); it ran the risk of a frenzied assault on-rather than a feast for-the senses. The chaos of the second half muted the momentum of the piece which the first half had taken great effort to build up. It remains a mystery as to why the dead dog's tail continues to wag. Jane's lack of involvement in the second half is also a puzzle.
Nevertheless, there are pockets of exciting moments which are wonderful takeaways from the play. One memorable moment is the use of paint on the actors' bodies that shines when the stage is washed in ultraviolet light. It adds to the visual spectacle of ferality, as it is reminiscent of war paint.
Although an ensemble piece, the level of acting mastery differed greatly from one individual to the next. In spite of this, the obvious camaraderie and chemistry in the cast more than made up for it. Undoubtedly, this is a by-product of the amount of dedication given to the piece. Without formal conservatoire training by NUS, the class of 2017 were challenged to devise, write, market, make props, and dramaturg, an entirely original piece in a mere span of 11 weeks. Great pains could have been avoided if one used an existing text, but the class were clearly up to the task at hand. Of course, if one were to look at it as a full production, it is definitely rough around the edges. However, as a work-in-progress, it is a promising and playful production, and an indicator for the industry to look out for what these 12 individuals have to offer in the future.
This review was based on the performance attended on 29th March 2017.