By Carman Chew (17A01D) and Nadiya Nesseer (17S03B)
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” — James Baldwin
In this year’s instalment of their annual production, the alumni of Raffles Players delved into the theme of home, telling stories of both the comfort and curses it brings. Staged across two nights, on the 25th and 26th of January, this series of 4 plays had been a joint effort of only 11 individuals, with many of them taking on several roles in acting, directing and stage-handling.
Once doors opened at 7pm, teachers, juniors, and seniors alike streamed into the TSD. The strikingly low-lit atmosphere, intimate audience of only 50 each night and bohemian setting accentuated the concept of an open and welcoming house party.
In the first of the four plays, the audience is invited to explore the mind of Misha, a mentally distraught insomniac, and his turbulent relationship with his ex-wife, Cheney. The play wastes no time in establishing the tension early, opening with a dimly lit set and a sleepless Misha tossing and turning in an isolated bed. The sequence then spirals into an emotional rollercoaster, exposing the cracks in the couple’s relationship and leading the audience to understand how the irrationally angry man came to be.
To this author, the male lead’s efforts were commendable when it came to keeping the audience consistently on edge. When asked about how he had managed to get into character, actor Vasu Namdeo commented that he had drawn from experiences he personally had throughout his life and channelled those emotions into his scenes — except, of course, for the part where he was high on drugs. The intriguing use of lighting had also complemented the plot well, highlighting the volatility of the relationship throughout the play.
Dragon Lady Tells Truth About Universe
The second play serves as a reminder to millennials that in life, there need not be an explanation as to why certain things happen in a particular way. As Sarthak, who portrayed the lead John, aptly put, “we can’t go around overthinking things and trying to explain why certain things happen in a particular way”.
Consisting of two main acts, the play begins with John visiting the eccentric Dragon Lady, as he consults her to find out if his chronic job-hopping is due to spirits following him. Caitlin’s witty sarcastic replies and creative use of props mocked the triviality of the concern raised by John.
The second act is set after a time jump, after John has settled into a good stable job. While having a drink with a couple of his friends, he receives an unexpected visitor, Luke the Duke, an old overachieving friend whose life has led him to become a contented vacuum cleaner salesman. Unable to comprehend how his once successful friend has transformed into a state such as this, he breaks out into an argument.
The lack of a proper closure to the play left many feeling unsettled, and yet this perfectly paralleled how one often continues to be plagued with discontentment when unable to pinpoint a reason for some obscure phenomenon. All in all, it had surely left the audience reflecting on their own lives and obsessions with explanation.
After two dark plays, one would be heartened to know that the third play had been a lighthearted one — or at least deceivingly so. Here we follow the journey of Cheryl and her newly adopted cat, Shiba. If there was an award for best animal portrayal, actress Chen Wen Wen would’ve won it hands down, with her nimble leaping from platform to platform and her hilarious mantra of ‘food, food, food, food, food’ every time her owner returned home. As someone who (oddly) meows often, one senior commented that “Wen Wen was really good, like her mannerisms and yeah, her ‘meow’s are so good.”
The friendship between the actresses in real life certainly paid off when it came to portraying the comedic duo, lending legitimacy to the scenes and rendering the play even more enjoyable when the audience could sense how genuine the relationship was. At one point, the two were even prancing across the stage to a musical number.
Beneath the dynamic humor and lovely chemistry, there was also a poignant critique on human relationships. Coupled with the use of the set to underscore Cheryl’s commitment issues, the subtle undertones of loneliness and isolation, all of which were seamlessly woven into the play.
For Sreshya, who had played the part of Cheryl, this had been her second leading role within the four plays itself. When asked about the challenges she faced balancing both roles, she chirped, “To be honest, my batchmates kept asking me if I was okay with doing 2 plays, whether it would be too challenging for me, and I [had] always happily disagreed saying, ‘I have nothing else to do!’
The challenges associated with being in 2 plays only really materialized on the actual shownight. Each night, after one nerve-wracking play had ended, I had another nerve-wracking play left. Fortunately, that also meant a greater sense of fulfillment upon the completion of both shows. So all in all, I would say it was a really rewarding and enjoyable experience and I would do it all again.”
When The Bough Breaks
The last play was the most heart-rending of the four, with many audience members visibly moved. This confession piece centres around a widowed mother, whose narration makes the audience question the obligations we owe to the ones we love. The dramatic effect was heightened as a result of having only one character onstage, with her son and late husband unseen throughout.
In this play, one understands the role of a mother as one who offers unending support, love and care, even when their child is at their lowest. The death of her husband, accompanied by her son’s eventual suicide, calls into question if she had been a good wife and mother throughout the play.
Having to shoulder the weight of an entire play alone, Celine expressed that “It was quite daunting to the extent that I felt I had to carry the emotional range and energy of the full piece. I also felt a need to actively engage the audience, as opposed to building a dynamic with co-actors for the audience to watch.” Thanks to the support and encouragement of her batchmates, she was very convincing in her role as a mother.
The play also received praise from Mrs Nicola Perry, one of the school’s highly revered literature teachers, who said: “Well, I think Celine was excellent; yes it was very intense, but it was very subtly conveyed in the end. And it didn’t try to milk too much from the audience, it didn’t try to be overly sentimental. The metaphor was sustained, which could’ve been a little cliche, but they made it their own, she made it personal, her and the situation, so I thought it was very nicely done. It was gently provocative.”
Despite the manpower shortages and logistical challenges, many audience members were more than satisfied, with some, upon leaving the theatre, feeling like their $8 were “so worth it”. For the crew themselves, putting up the plays had also been an amazing experience.
Having worked on all the plays in one way or another, Vasu Namdeo had added, “I really really enjoyed this production because it felt like this was the most tight knit we have ever been as a batch. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy what they were doing. I especially liked the curtain call we had because I could see that even a seemingly mundane ritual was being enjoyed by members of the cast, crew and audience alike, and that’s just a fine dandy thing to see from the lights booth.”
It is always demanding when one tries to put forth so much within so little time, but somehow the team managed to pull it off and, to these authors, their efforts were truly impressive. Hopefully Rafflesians will continue to meet the upcoming arts events, such as the Broadway Babies production, with much enthusiasm. For without an audience, there is no theatre.
By Cheang Ko Lyn
Director: Cheang Ko Lyn
Cheney: Sreshya K. Vishwanathan
Misha: Vasu Namdeo
Dragon Lady Tells Truth About The Universe:
By Jovi Tan
Director: Celine Ng
Dragon Lady: Caitlin O’ Hara
John: Sarthak Panwar
Lew: Muhd Sufyan
Luke: Vasu Namdeo
Daisy: Cheang Ko Lyn
By Mohd Sufyan
Director: Mohd Sufyan
Cheryl: Sreshya K. Vishwanathan
Shiba: Chen Wen Wen
When The Bough Breaks:
By Isaiah Lee
Director: Aishwarya Manivannan, Cai Hai Yun
Jo: Celine Ng