Singapore Arts Festival 2006
Drama Centre Theatre
By Richard Chua
17 June 2006
I was at the theatre of Drama Centre last Saturday, and I caught a theatre production, which compelled me to write.
Mobile, an international collaboration with artists from Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, is a refreshing piece of work that sees The Necessary Stage returning back to what they do best – to engage with the community with social issues awaiting to be addressed. Working through a social issue is never easy as there are too many perspectives to take care of. The topic on migrant workers is no different; it could be taken as a platform for these workers to have a voice, or an opportunity to lash out at the ones who served inequality on them. We are living in an unfeeling money-based world where cheap labour is welcome, as costs should be maintained low in order to maximise profits. Governments are willing to bend backwards allowing vices to be a mainstream activity in the name of economic development. Under these conditions, it is easy to take this play on a rant and scold the government. But, I am glad The Necessary Stage has not literally taken this as an anti-government campaign. Mobile is a balanced piece of critique on those who have levied harm on migrant workers, governments included. Besides that, there is also human drama, where human foibles are to be blamed for the plight of these migrant workers.
The Necessary Stage took a bold step in laying out different stories with complex characters. There is a Malay woman who rose within the ranks in a government ministry, only to realise later that her pragmatic view to life has cost her more than her friendship with a Thai human rights activist. A resort developer, who in the quest to maximise profits, sacrificed his fisherman friend’s support in expanding his business. A Japanese couple whose marriage was broken as the husband find love in another woman in the Philippines. And lastly, a Thai woman who gave birth to a child of a Japanese man, the only right she could claim in trying to stay in the foreign land. Performance is a challenge, as actors have to run a gamut of emotions in order to play the characters well. It is difficult for them to keep up good performances for every character. Most of the actors are competent, and they portrayed the characters well.
Aidli “Alin” Mosbit played the Malay civil servant Rafidah with aplomb, and playing opposite her, Narumol Thammapruksa as a Thai human rights activist. Both of them exhibited excellent chemistry that makes the final parting, due to differences in ideologies, even more excruciating to watch. This poignant scene spells the fall of humanity in the present world. I was extremely glad to have seen Chua Enlai in a different light. To sidetrack a little, I find his performance with “Alin” Mosbit in a performance at Guinness Theatre earlier this year excellent, where he played a couple of characters ranging from a boy to a man, whose life was displaced by the influence of a different culture. Chua Enlai, in his usual irreverent style, played the newscaster well, akin to Timothy Go of Singapore’s Channel Newsasia, a regional news channel. (Timothy Go is well-known to twitch his eyebrow everytime he reports news on TV). Other performers include Rody Vera, who assumed the role of the resort developer, while his Philipino counterpart, Mailes Kanapi, played his materialistic wife. Kanapi was melodramatic at times.
Furthermore, more credits should go to the directors, Alvin Tan (Singapore) and Tatsuo Kaneshita (Japan). The proscenium stage was utilised effectively with the use of simple mobile containers, which can be transformed into many different set configurations. Each of the different configurations, especially the sounds created while the sets were being changed, provided strong theatrical allusions to the emotions within the play. One example would be the loud banging of the container panels as they fell to the floor, all while Chula, the Thai human rights activist, was delivering her paper at the forum. The sound reflected the iron-fist clamp down of any difference in ideologies in any so-called democracy. This notion was made even clearer when Rafidah, the Singapore civil servant, walked out and interjected Chula’s speech with an inane government rhetoric. Lighting was point precise in every single change, with the necessary hues of colours highlighting the emotional flows of the characters. However, more could be done with the multi-media screens, instead of one clever use with the blinds to project a moving image of the Japanese businessman’s Philipino love interest.
Mobile is a play that aims to heal wounds. It is beyond The Necessary Stage’s ability to completely address all the issues at hand. Human foible has no cure, but art could heal it. After each and every human error made, trauma causes hurt, art pieces like Mobile is there to alleviate them. While embarking on the work, The Necessary Stage aimed at creating a piece of work that heals the pain of the migrant workers. That should not be the main motivation. Most importantly, it should help these migrant workers realise that they do have alternative choices in life, other than the one that is forced out of their own desperation.
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