Dramafeste 2019: (non)Sense

By Megan Soh Minyi (20A01B), Mah Xiao Yu (20A01B), and Leong Jia En Rachel (20A01E)
Photographs courtesy of Rachel Tan (19S03T) and Tian Ruiying (19S05B) of Raffles Photographic Society

Dramafeste is back with this year’s theme of (non)Sense! In this production, each house was allocated one of the five senses: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. Before the start of the event, ebullient and lively chatter could be heard all throughout the PAC, a testament to the high levels of anticipation among the audience members to see how each house’s assigned theme would come to play in theatre.

The event was kicked off by our two lively and entertaining emcees, Kiara and Zara, former Exco members of Raffles Players from 2017-2018. Through witty banter and undeniable chemistry, they introduced this year’s three esteemed judges — Alfian Sa’at, a local writer and alumnus of Raffles, Nick Perry, the artistic director of The Stage Club and Erika Poh, the music director of The Runaway Company — and each of the plays in turn.

Buckle-Buckley: Two Men’s Trash (sense of touch)

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“To write a true tragedy, you have to be one yourself.”

BB’s ‘touch’-themed play featured ‘mind-control slapping’, a plot device wherein victims of the slap would fall into a trance of obedience, submitting to the will of the perpetrator. Though it may sound alarming, every slap had the audience breaking out into fits of laughter. Another interesting feature of the play was that several actors were disguised as audience members and were summoned from their respective positions among the audience in the PAC, which sparked a great deal of surprise and was very refreshing indeed.

The plot follows director duo Chris (Haris Irfan, 20S06U) and Nolan (Regan Ng, 20S03O) who find themselves resorting to the aforementioned will-bending slaps to resolve their disagreement over what sort of performance to put up, with Chris wanting to put up a comedy and Nolan insisting on performing a tragedy. As the story progresses we are introduced to more interesting characters (and fantastic actors!) and we learn what drives each director to pursue their respective styles. Eventually, the conflict is resolved with the help of Little Green Riding Hood’s actress (Fiona Xiao, 20A01A), who rightfully declares that “you can’t experience true joys without experiencing true sadness” and successfully manages to get Chris and Nolan to put aside their differences (though not without slapping some sense into them both first).

The play was a brilliant start to the event, with iconic scenes involving Ethan Lim (19A01C), dressed in a tight black dress, bending over seductively to retrieve a tray of cookies and Joshua Neoh (20A01E), also cross-dressing in a drab sleeping gown, weeping passionately all over the floor, a spirited performance that that had the audience laughing uncontrollably. The play was not short of meaningful quotes either, especially in Chris and Nolan’s reconciliation.

Two Men’s Trash’s message is simple yet profound. Just as the play was a delightful mix of touching monologues and side-splitting humour, life is a beautiful combination of tragedy and joy and would be incomplete without either.

Moor-Tarbet: Legacy (sense of sound)

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“Just listen to your own voice, sure can one.”

MT’s Legacy, which was based on the theme of ‘sound’, stood in stark contrast to BB’s lighthearted production. Addressing heavy themes such as death, anxiety, trauma, and guilt —  among many others — the play was down-to-earth and a truly emotional experience. Audience members found themselves sympathising with Sam (Charmayne Ang, 20S03I), a young girl racked with social anxiety who faces the daunting task of delivering a speech on the topic of “legacy”, and collectively sighing in pity when Mr Goh (Mirza Bin Abdul Latiff, 20S0GD) shrugs off the lethal effect of smoking with a flippant “live so long for what?”

The two characters met out of pure coincidence, but when a loud car horn triggers a panic attack for Mr Goh, bringing up terrible memories of the accident that took his beloved daughter’s life, and Sam takes up the responsibility of taking care of him during his stay in the hospital, they begin to help each other overcome their own limitations. In the end, Sam finds the courage to listen to and use her own voice while Mr Goh finds the conviction to continue living.

But just as we are about to witness a happy ending, Mr Goh passes away due to a heart attack and Sam is left heartbroken. In spite of this, she finally stands up for herself against her classmates and delivers a touching speech with the confidence gained with help from Mr Goh, demonstrating how much of an impact he made on her life, despite the short time they had known each other for.

While the extended use of strobe lights during the play was slightly overwhelming (as was foreshadowed by the epilepsy warning given before the start of the performance), MT’s use of lights and sounds was very effective and complemented the actors’ performances perfectly. Red and blue lights would indicate the arrival of the ambulances, the strobe lights would mimic the effects of having a panic attack and singular spotlights emphasised strong emotions and flashbacks.

The play’s bittersweet ending left the audience with teary eyes and a heavy heart, but it really drove MT’s message home: legacies are about touching someone else’s life and leaving an impact, no matter how big or small.

Bayley-Waddle: 49 Days (sense of taste)

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“It won’t taste the same.” “But does it have to?”

Yet another touching play, 49 Days was inspired by the fengshui belief that a person’s soul lingers for 49 days following their death. For the Tan-Prakash family, that means visions of Ah Ma, beloved grandmother of the family who has just passed away. Through these visions, she visits each of them for the last time, helping them to overcome their individual grief and finally reconnect as a family.

Following their allocated theme of ‘taste’, BW made references to various local favourites like bubur chacha and nasi lemak, using these dishes to represent Ah Ma’s love for her family. After Ah Ma’s death, the family seems to have fallen further apart. Lynette (Michele Pek, 20A01A), the grandchild, loses her appetite and refuses to eat anything bought by her mother, stating that no matter what, the food will never taste the same. Alan (A Ganeshaa, 19S03G), Ah Ma’s son, is buried in work but misses his mother deeply nonetheless. Claire (Charmaine Teo, 19A01B), Lynette’s mother, is desperate to bring the family back together but is at a loss as to how. As they each fight their battle against the pain of loss, Ah Ma (Siti Nurellisha, 19A01B) appears to each of them in visions, healing their wounds and helping them gain closure. Eventually, they learn to come to terms with the loss and face it together bravely as a family – obviously starting by learning how to cook together.

Compared to other plays with multiple sets and a large crew of actors, 49 Days was very simple but effective in driving home their theme. The whole play took place in the family’s dining room and kitchen, a homely and familial setting, and involved only four main characters: Lynette, Claire, Alan, and Ah Ma. And while maybe the kitchen was lacking in utensils and appliances, the actors certainly weren’t lacking in skill. Lynette’s heartbreak and nostalgia were painfully moving; Claire and Alan’s grief and frustration were less obvious but no less poignant; Ah Ma’s well-intended chides were convincing and added bits of humour to the otherwise solemn atmosphere of the play. Later on, Charmaine and Siti went on to win the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress awards respectively.

From its heartrending conflict to the heartwarming resolution, BW’s tear-jerking play took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste lingering amid the audience.

Morrison-Richardson: This Is What Inequality Smells Like (sense of smell)

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“She smells, you don’t.”

Taking place within a dystopian society where the ability to smell damns a minority of people to lives of poverty and discrimination, This Is What Inequality Smells Like focuses on the lives of a single father and his two daughters, all trying to find a place for themselves in the cruel world around them. They are frequently reminded of and mocked for their ability through their interactions with other characters who walk around with pegs clipped onto their noses, signifying their lack of the sense of smell. From the father (Eric Shen Feiyue, 20S06F) struggling to buy a new flat, to the younger daughter (Tasha Nadya Mackenzie, 20S03K) trying to keep up with classmates who can afford tuition, to the older daughter (Adlina M Anis, 19A01D) fighting for a forbidden love, the family bears plenty of burdens, but in the end, they rise up in spite of it all.

Despite the grave premise, the play managed to incorporate a healthy dose of humour in the form of puns, gigantic frogs in school lab dissections (that were of “high kermitment”) and deadpan jokes. The play’s only fault was that it subscribed to a number of cliches — after all, the story of the underdog has been told countless times before. Nonetheless, the cast’s expert delivery of emotional lines touched the audience, and their jokes were very well received.

Besides the great performance put up by the actors, MR produced beautiful and intricate sets for their play — allowing them to clinch the Best Set Design award — including the family’s little flat, the restaurant and the housing board’s office. They also brought in incredibly realistic props, such as a public bench and a toilet bowl (we can only wonder where on Earth they were found). Furthermore, their costumes were well-designed, effectively indicating the socio-economic status and/or occupation of the various characters — it is no wonder they won Best Costumes later on.

Hadley-Hullett: Draft 4 (DON’T EDIT) (sense of sight)

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“We all see things differently.”

Before the play started, HH’s performance was a complete mystery to most audience members. 3 synopses? For a single play? Which were they going to choose? Eventually, though, all became clear. The main characters, three director-playwrights with astoundingly different styles, were competing to prove their script was the best.

Like BB’s play, HH’s performance took the form of metatheatre. From a dystopian setup to an angsty romance to a childhood story, the HH cast displayed great versatility and an ability to switch fluidly between different genres. Additionally, the main actors’ distinct stage personalities added colour and vibrancy to their performance. The first director (C Dayanita Rani, 20S07C) adopted a rather cynical and pessimistic perspective and performed a highly intellectual and passionate monologue explaining her world view. The second director (Wei Chong), on the other hand, strutted around on the stage, employing dramatic, exaggerated gestures and body language to emphasise the importance of ‘realistic dialogue’ in a good script in a hilarious bid to sell his idea. The final director (Wynsey Chen, 20A01A) had a more simplistic view of life, proposing that not all stories had to be deep and emotional to be good.

Even though the final moments of the play left some of the audience members confused, HH’s play was very well-received indeed, no doubt thanks to the colourful, hilarious performance put on by the cast.

Players Exco Performance

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“Maybe the sixth sense was… love!”

The final performance put up by the Players’ Exco’19 was a highlights reel of the houses’ plays, tied together nicely in a short skit. Recreating iconic scenes (cross-dressing and rolling on the floor to mimic the dramatic weeping from Two Men’s Trash, strutting around and acting blind as a tribute to Draft 4 (DON’T EDIT), pulling out the food props from 49 Days) and quoting iconic lines (“M-m-m-my name is Sam” from Legacy), their antics left the audience and cast members alike in stitches. This was followed by a series of corny Chemistry and pau jokes by the lively cast of Dramafeste in a bid to ‘stall time’, as worded by Kiara and Zara themselves – before the judges returned to deliver their verdict.

Crew 

It goes without saying that Dramafeste would not have achieved this level of success without the backstage and lights-and-sounds crew. They toiled laboriously behind and in between the scenes, playing a less obvious but equally essential role. Many hours were spent creating the set pieces, practicing moving sets between plays efficiently and speedily, coordinating the lights and sounds, and much more in order to help put up the best production they could. Tammie Tang (20A01E), who was involved as part of the lights-and-sounds crew, said, “our director [told] us that there had been over 1 minute of audience laughter – because the most important part about putting on a comedy is whether the audience thinks it’s funny, and I was really proud of what [our crew] had done together.” We thank the whole crew for their hard work and contribution in making Dramafeste such a success!

Conclusion

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Dramafeste 2019 was the stunning result of the five houses’ weeks-long toil and labour —  made even more intense thanks to the ‘short runway’ to the event filled with ‘many last minute changes and late nights’, as Amy Lin (19A01B), house captain of BB, put it. “I was really overwhelmed and so immensely proud of the whole team … everyone’s put in so much effort,” she said. Indeed, the effort of everyone involved in Dramafeste, as well as warm support from the audience, was what made the event a huge success.

To conclude with a quote by Cassandra Clare, “There’s plenty of sense in nonsense sometimes, if you wish to look for it.” Indeed, Dramafeste 2019: (non)Sense was been a hearty mix of sensibility and nonsense, making it a truly sensational (ha!) two nights. We look forward to seeing Dramafeste 2021!

Awards

Best Actor: Haris Irfan, 20S06U (BB) as Chris, Two Men’s Trash

Best Actress: Siti Nurellisha Bte Khairi S, 19A01B (BW) as Ah Ma, 49 Days

Best Supporting Actor: Mirza Bin Abdul Latiff, 20S06D (MT), as Mr Goh, Legacy

Best Supporting Actress: Charmaine Teo, 19A01B (BW), as Claire, 49 Days

Best Script: 49 Days, BW

Best Direction: Two Men’s Trash, BB

Best Ensemble: Draft 4 (DON’T EDIT), HH

Best Set Design: This is What Inequality Smells Like, MR

Best Costumes: This is What Inequality Smells Like, MR

Best Lights and Sounds: Two Men’s Trash, BB

Best Play: Two Men’s Trash, BB

Congratulations to all winners!

House rankings:

  1. BB
  2. BW
  3. HH
  4. MR
  5. MT

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