Monday, November 30, 2009

The Review

The much anticipated review by Matthew Lyon of Flying Inkpot.

Capricorn Rising
Most physical theatre prides itself on its precision: consider the elastic grace of Ramesh Meyyappan, for example, or the clockwork choreography of many Finger Players productions. Cake Theatre's The Comedy of the Tragic Goats, however, seemed to have discarded precision in its urgent rush to get across what it wanted to say. The show resembled a hyper-caffeinated lit student hammering club-fisted at his keyboard, battering an essay deadline into submission. Its two actors looked like they were powered by far too many batteries. But this was a very good thing indeed - Goats' relentless attack gave it a unique aesthetic that drilled through the eyes and bubbled into veins and glands. It reeked of testosterone, piss and sweat; you could taste its blood on your tongue. And it didn't care that it was messy and bleeding: the play possessed the ecstatic abandon of a wounded animal - roaring and defiantly alive... and quite unlike any other theatre I have ever seen.

And it's not like precision had never had any part in the proceedings. The play was tight, well-timed and consistent (I saw it twice), and there must have been rehearsals, early on, when neither of its actors (Najib Soiman and Rizman Putra) sustained bruises; when neither was soaking wet by the end; when the props survived until next time. Certainly each moment of Mohd Fared Jainal's direction was carefully considered and expressively articulated... And while Natalie Hennedige's script (which was given out with the programme) was a mere sculptural doodle, it was one drawn with clean lines, consisting of an unadorned litany of actions for the characters to perform.

But while the play's skeleton possessed economy and grace, in performance these qualities were disguised under layers of convulsing meat. Consider an early confrontation scene in which Rizman plays one of the protagonists, Boo, a construction worker, and Najib plays his sadistic site supervisor. Najib leans back, setting his shoulders low and emphasizing his belly in an arrogant, Neanderthal slouch. His gaze is slow and glassy-eyed, but his fingers twitch from an instinct for cruelty built into their nerves. As Rizman leans over a work desk to assemble his materials, Najib lazily hefts a long metal pole and positions the pole against his crotch, creating a giant phallus. He eyes Rizman's backside with an autonomic detachment - and then he proceeds to mock-sodomise Rizman, all the while maintaining a disinterested demeanour, save for the slightest curling of his lip. Meanwhile, Rizman attempts to go about his business with the wary glances and shrunken posture of a kicked dog. He draws in his arms; his feet carefully, automatically measure their steps; his eyes refuse to look directly at his oppressor in the hope that meekness will assuage him - but nor does he look away entirely, keeping Najib always in his peripheral vision. And then in the moment when Boo finally snaps, Rizman's physicality detonates. His muscles violently swell; his pupils dilate yet attain a razor-sharp focus; his face contorts with galvanic, wind-tunnel ferocity. The performances in this production came not from the brain but from the red chemistry of the flesh. Although there was no spoken text in Goats, it seems wrong to call it mime, with all the Frenchified, theoretical baggage that word carries. This was physical theatre plain and simple.

Yet there was a depth to the piece – the kind of depth folktales have: echoing and unilluminated. It told the story of two prisoners: Boo the construction worker and Munsee the student-activist. The play chronicles the events that led to their imprisonment, the games they play to occupy themselves, the obsessions their captivity incites, and the torture they receive at the hands of a sinister clown Gestapo. The story was simple enough, but between the script and the direction, enough of a symbolic vocabulary was created to lend it an infrasonic resonance - an indefinable but persistent sense that there were larger issues at stake than the fate of these two men. For example, the jail Boo and Munsee find themselves in serves as a makeshift workshop (rendered in stained steel and wire mesh in Fared's versatile and fitting set design), and the pair use the materials they find to create effigies of their obsessions. Munsee builds an army of blocky clay soldiers, their right arms raised in salute to him, their Supreme Leader. Boo draws on a blackboard sketches of the utopia he dreams of constructing - an earthly paradise that uncannily resembles the Integrated Resort. Both men caress the blackboards with chalk, describing abstract but voluptuous female forms, before their lust overtakes them and they stab the chalk at the board, obsessively colour and recolour the genitals, and finally throw themselves against the flat surface in two-dimensional coitus. Politics, satire and sex - it may not be quite clear what Goats is trying to say, but it's certainly saying something big.

Audience members familiar with Hennedige's past work may be better able to parse Goats' symbolism. Hennedige has a deep distrust of podium-pontificators and architects of paradise - of men with grand plans and booming voices. For example, in Cheek, her take on the Antigone myth, Lim Kay Siu played Creon as a petty generalissimo issuing self-satisfied diktats to a zombified demos; while in Temple, Najib played a deluded latter-day Moses driving his flock to build a land of milk and honey in a neighbourhood sports hall. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and Queen Ping also contain their own iterations of men (and in the latter case, a woman) with the mad glint of epiphany in their eyes - with a mania to command, to exhort, to see the face of God. How, then, does one stand against these obsessives and megalomaniacs? Organically. In Temple, Li Xie was a butterfly beating her wings against the glass case that confined her. Queen Ping saw Noorlinah Mohamed drowning in a tide of love and lust that carried her away from her dysfunctional family - and she inhaled deeply the lung-burning water. In Cheek, Jean Ng, playing Antigone, stood rooted as a tree, swaying but unmoved by Creon's bluster. Resist, and be who you are. Even when your resistance will have no effect; even when being yourself will kill you.

Except that it's not quite so simple in Goats. It seems that either Munsee or Boo is the son of the Goat Head, an assassinated military leader who planned to build Utopia. Each, then, must struggle against an impulse that threatens to overwhelm him - Munsee to rule, Boo to build - even as they struggle against the powers that have imprisoned them.

Najib and Rizman were brilliant at portraying these struggles. They burned with rage and desire and humiliation. They broke and rebuilt themselves. They succumbed to petty jealousies and one-upmanship... yet, ultimately, they achieved the kind of gnosis Aeschylus had in mind when he wrote that man must suffer to be wise. And all this without words and, more impressively, without the dancerly precision with which mime implies that it is a system of codified meanings as schematic as language. What Najib and Rizman did here was make meanings out of meat.

Complementing and intensifying the impact of these performances, Philip Tan's sound design was a deliberately low-fi affair - a scratchy, repetitive, narrow soundscape that gave the impression it was made with nails, vynil and red-eyed, insomniac nights.

As a theatre lover, it's a rare joy to see a production like this: avant-garde but mythic, chaotic but controlled. Every element held up - especially Fared's direction, which managed to be endlessly inventive as well as being easy to follow (although he might have paid a little more attention to Munsee's death, which wasn't very clear). But compared to the ten-layer, cherry-topped gateaux Cake usually serves up, Goats is a slightly thin slice. What I'd love to see more of is the fusion of scale and focus Cake achieved in Nothing (which I like even more than Amos did): a play big enough to blow you away and secure enough to know where you'll land. Until the next masterpiece comes along, though, Goats is an extremely welcome diversion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jiwo Jiro: Zero Soul

The next world, really excited working with Mr Bijan...yeah!


15 – 16 January 2010, 8pm
(75 minutes with no intermission)
Esplanade Recital Studio

Festival commission . World premiere

Jiwo means soul while Jiro means zero. Put together, JIWO JIRO means “zero soul”.

A story about man and machine. A little man who speaks loudly like the tall fat giant who sleeps in the cabinet. He sings like the nightingale who has lost her chord. He dances like mad on the rooftop. He cooks with a microwave recipe in mind. He climbs the ladder to fix the bulb. “Stupid” is his first word said before everything.

But somewhere after midnight, he cries while staring at his own invention – an electronic bonsai tree – while the villagers laugh out loudly until he sleeps. In his dreams, he imagines a world where the difference between man and machine blurs, where the line between humanity and technology fades, and where the soul and the silicon chip unite.

He questioned the Laws of Human Nature every night.

Right or Wrong? Man or Machine? Jiwo or Jiro? He asked…God.

Muhammad Najib bin Soiman is an arts educator and theatre practitioner who has worked with various companies such as The Necessary Stage, W!ld Rice, Cake Theatrical Productions, Teater Ekamatra, Panggung ARTS, etc. He was the President of Teater Ekamatra from 2006-2007 and the Artistic Director of Panggung ARTS from 2008-2009. Recently he was awarded Best Actor at the 9th ST Life! Theatre Awards 2009 for his heartbreaking role as a photographer detained without trial in the play Gemuk Girls by The Necessary Stage.

MELT: The Aftermath

Melt was fun, I had a great team to work with, never felt better, it felt like friends coming together to produce such a zany creation. Special thanks to all who came down that Saturday to help out, you know who you are...

When Bloco came in for the introduction, it felt so good, it was like a calling, a calling of the tribe. It would be better if the stage is closer to the audience or vice versa just like what Philip said.

It was hard work for everyone definitely, loads of food. loads of popcorn and helium filled balloon to bring joy to a Saturday in a neighbourhood where nothing such as this ever surfaced. I guess, we managed to bring a new animal into the space and now we have to pack our bags and move on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


After Jazzy Jazz and The Razmatazz, comes Melt, so see you at Toa Payoh!

Come and join us on Saturday 7 November [5.00pm & 6.30pm] at Toa Payoh Amphitheatre for Melt, directed by our Associate Artist, Rizman Putra!

Conceptualised and directed by Rizman and written by Natalie, Melt is an outdoor theatrical experience that combines visual art, theatre, movement and music into a rare and surprising theatrical treat. Neon Tights, a merry band of visual artists will create visual installations and structures that will take the shape of larger than life eyes, ears, nose, mouth and tongue. A percussion troupe will beat and bang sending exuberant sound waves through the streets and all around, Kuda Kepang performers will replace their horses with life-size limbs and bodybuilders will bulge and swell in cheeky display. Join us as one man’s meltdown turns into a joyous celebration of the imagination.

Presented by Paradise Alley, Cake’s free annual outdoor performance and funded by the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Inspire Programme, Paradise Alley takes to the streets, bringing experimental theatre with visual spectacle into common spaces to capture, enthral and uplift the spirit and imagination of audiences in a diverse and electrifying gathering.

Come rain or shine, we’ll be rearing to go, so come on down and join us for a fun time! And again, free popcorn for all!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Body Overhaul: System Overload

I have been sick for the past week, I am not sure of what has got into me, some say a mysterious female entity has gotten into me, some said my body is tired.

My body has been battered, twisted and groped in the name of health from a basement jack accupunture dude who pronounce my name as Jiman, to my Iron Shaik daddy-in-law, to the neighbour who lives on the seventh floor as he called upon his brother (who looks like Steven Seagal) who painfully realigned the veins in my body to their right places.

The last resort was a visit to Alexandra Hospital, and the doc who looks like Dino Vomit jabbed 2 solid jabberwockies of sedated muscle relaxant liquid fire onto my nerves. I had no choice, I hate going to hospitals, but with the help of my Bee, she was there with me throughout this ordeal.

It all started out when my body got jammed from my neck to my shoulder blade somewhere in Hillview. Then it got really worst, I was like C3PO with arthritis. As when I thought I was 'A' ok, I suddenly got this bad tummy flue, not sure if it was from this whole Body jam madness, or another bad unknown symptom. I felt like there's a load of bad gases in my body, and everything tasted so bad, made me wanna puke shit out of my mouth.

This morning, when I woke up I felt a bit better, being sick and immobile is not something that you look forward to every morning, the feeling is like a bad hangover with needles in your head.

I want to get back to!

Friday, September 04, 2009

For the Greatfuls

Life is different now, I am not sure of how to describe this feeling, and Singapore is not like how it used to be.

Recently, I realised tha I have difficulties in having to place myself in a large crowd. I will get so breathless and it feels like someone is knocking my head with a huge ass hammer. I am not sure if Singapore is becoming overcrowded or I am getting old. Come to think of it, I am not that old, but not so young either. Maybe, I am one of those who are struggling with the rapid modernisation/post modernisation or whatever you want to call it, but hey, do I have a choice? I just live with it, go with the ride and make sure that I put on my seat belt.

I still go about doing what I love doing but not having to get involved in the 'tete-la-tete' of the world that we all knew. I don't find the need to anymore, not sure why, but I am contented with whatever that has been given to me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Goats: The Aftermath

Production: The Comedy of the Tragic Goats
Company: Cake Theatrical Productions
Full review coming from: Matthew Lyon

If you are serious about theatre - watching it, creating it, studying it - then the explosive Comedy of the Tragic Goats simply cannot be missed. This is theatre, this is art - which lives, breathes and stands before you daring you to call it by any other name.

Audience members who are not regular theatre-goers should not be intimidated though. There are no words used in this 75-minute production but director Mohd Fared Jainal's ferocious vision of a dystopian world, created onstage as a carnival of sets, props, costumes, light, sound, dance choreography and physical theatre movement, is a gripping work that puts a knife to your throat and simply demands your attention. It shocks, disturbs and amuses, never letting up till the very end. It is not surprising that Fared, an experienced designer, has such a flair for visual impact but, for a new director, he shows a particularly impressive understanding of pacing and the building of momentum.

Credit for the success of the play must also be given to actors Muhammad Najib Bin Soiman (bijaN) and Rizman Putra who demonstrate monstrous skill and endurance in challenging roles that are physically exhausting and require them to take on everything from playful clowns to horrifically violent sadists.

Easily the best play I've seen this year.

4.5 out of 5, Kenneth Kwok, 20 Aug 2009

Taken from Inkpot Theatre Review

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Goats are Asleep now

The end of Goats, its time to recuperate from the madness, clean the house, change the sheets...