One-Two-Many: Raffles Players’ J1 Production

By Zara Karimi (18A01A)
Photographs courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

What do illegal parking, invented languages, and ethical dilemmas all have in common? Superficially speaking, absolutely nothing. And yet, plays featuring these three completely unrelated subjects were a part of Raffles Players’ J1 Production: One-Two-Many, held at the Theatre Studies and Drama Room from 9–11 November. 

The three plays showcased were No Parking on Odd Days, by Kuo Pao Kun (1986), The Universal Language, by American playwright David Ives (1993), and Omelas, written by Players’ own Robyn Wong.

“We picked One-Two-Many as our title for a couple of reasons,” explained chairperson Kiara Pillai. “The first was because the title was representative of the number of actors in each play. No Parking has one, Universal Language has two, and Omelas has many! But besides this, we are a batch of just 12 people, and we decided to put on three plays. We had bitten off more than we could chew… and sometimes it really felt like one too many plays.” But nearly a month’s worth of hard work came to fruition by the time their production days rolled around, with all three shows oversold.

The night began with Omelas, a fifteen-minute ensemble piece based off the short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin. Five “travellers” described the city of Omelas, a seemingly magical place free from the systemic evils that tend to plague civilisation. Yet a dark secret lay at its heart: for all the wonder and merriment in the city, there is a single, innocent child locked in a dark, damp room, forced to suffer horrible abuse. This child’s freedom is the price that the citizens of Omelas have to pay for the boundless happiness and fortune that they enjoy. The ensemble piece presented a moral and ethical question that we encounter today, one that often goes ignored: Should the minority have to pay for the benefit of the majority?

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“None in Omelas is in guilt… but all in Omelas are guilty.”

The physical theatre piece was largely “devised” – that is, each actor’s every movement was carefully choreographed to tell the story and complement the narrative.

“Sometimes [Robyn] would just throw us into the space and give us an emotion or an idea to work with, and we looked for interesting things to do with our bodies. Bam, physical theatre,” joked ensemble member Wan Jia Ling.

Of course, it was a little more complex than that. Omelas primarily made use of the theatre composition technique of Viewpointing, and drew on the Suzuki method of actor training. During rehearsals, cast members were made to think about their movements, gestures, and the space they were in. More often than not, the intricate tableaus and images featured in Omelas were a product of trial and error. On the whole, the aesthetic direction of the play was strong yet stripped-down, and worked well in conveying the message of the play.

The next play of the night, The Universal Language, was a light-hearted comedy about a nervous, stuttering young woman named Sam Di Vito (Played by Huang Ruijia, 18A01B) who picks up the Esperanto-esque language of Unamunda in hopes of gaining some self-confidence. Her teacher is none other than Sam Finnineganegan (Played by Kiara Pillai, 18A01B), an eccentric who shares her name. As they progress, Di Vito and Finnineganegan grow closer, and in learning to speak Unamunda, Di Vito loses her stutter. She vows to only speak Unamunda for the rest of her life, which alarms Finnineganegan. The truth comes out – Unamunda is actually a flimsy con-game constructed by Finnineganegan, who wanted to profit by giving lessons in the fake language. Still, the 30-minute play did not fail to end on a happy note, with Di Vito forgiving Finnineganegan, reminding the audience of ‘the hand of destiny’, and the power of the universal language of friendship.

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“Arf, wharf, barf! Pasta, present, furniture dances! Ya badabba?”

The actresses had impeccable comedic timing, owing largely to their stage presence and chemistry, which garnered a lot of laughs from the audience. Though a large part of the play was in gibberish that resembled English, the actresses carried it well, expressing themselves fluently enough for audiences to understand.

“While it was difficult during the initial rehearsals to get that energy and build-up, I think a lot of [Kiara and Ruijia’s] relationship translated itself into the dynamic between Sam and Sam,” explained director Robyn Wong. Nearly the entire team for The Universal Language is from the same class, and this allowed them to work together more closely.

The final play of the night was No Parking On Odd Days, a 45-minute monodrama. The play followed the story of a middle-aged Singaporean man (played by Jared Ong, 18A13A) and his run-ins with the law over illegal parking. Thought-provoking, humorous and bittersweet, the play illustrated several minor conflicts between an individual and the government, touching on the issues of social conformity and bureaucratic rigidity.

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“When we got out, we were all saying that the airport was VERY efficient. But you know what when I reached my car? A ticket! Wah lau eh!”

Despite the lack of other actors, Jared kept the audience engaged through a series of sharply-defined caricatures of other characters in the play, such as his character’s young son, a parking attendant, and a policeman. While rehearsing for No Parking On Odd Days, he reportedly studied old uncles at coffeeshops and tried to emulate them. Furthermore, the easygoing yet energetic persona of his character, as well as the stylistic choice of delivering his lines like a story rather than simply reciting a monologue, did not fail to entertain.

“I feel like my performance really changes in front of an audience, because rather than empty seats, there’s finally someone there who is reacting to what I’m saying for the very first time. In some senses, being onstage and delivering this play alone is still a two-way exchange,” said Jared Ong, after his first show.  

On the whole, Raffles Players showcased its talent once again with this production.

Players member Muskaan Kalwani puts it best: “We’ll make you cry, then laugh, then laugh and cry!”

Indeed, despite being thematically quite different, the medley of emotional complexity showcased in each of the plays kept audiences engaged. Raffles Press would like to congratulate Raffles Players on yet another successful show. 

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The J1 Batch of Raffles Players.

Credits

Directors
Robyn Wong (18A01B)
Han Ze Nan (18S06A)

Production and Stage Managers
Zara Karimi (18A01A)
Jayden Yap (18S03E)
Wan Jia Ling (18A01A)

Cast
Omelas
Muskaan Kalwani (18A01C)
Trisha Kaur (18S07A)
Jayden Yap (18S03E)
Jayden Kang (18S06N)
Wan Jia Ling (18A01A)
The Universal Language
Huang Ruijia (18A01B)
Kiara Pillai (18A01B)
No Parking on Odd Days
Jared Ong (18A13A)

Publicity
Jayden Kang (18S06N)
Huang Ruijia (18A01B)
Kiara Pillai (18A01B)
Jamie Lim (18S03D)

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