Theatre Review: AFAR

By DRAMA BOX (Singapore)

Directed by Jayln Han

Esplanade Theatre Studio

23rd August 2012 (Thursday) 8pm

Details of the play.

The Simple, The Better.

If you were looking for a definite answer or solution from this play about life, I’m afraid you might be disappointed.

Neither could you find any completed story or satisfied ending from it.

Well, AFAR was about 5 anonymities chanced to meet one another in an unknown place (Afar), in an unspecified period; maybe they really met, maybe it was just in their dreams. Nobody knew, but that’s not important. Then what was important you might ask; if you didn’t know it yourself, how would I know it, right?

Please pardon me for speaking like that as I’m just trying very hard to demonstrate to you how it was like while you were watching Afar.

Am I rude? No No No, I’m just being honest. Being true to oneself.

When you were much younger, you might be always trying to please the people around you in saying what others wanted to hear and be as ‘politically’ correct as possible, but as you grow older and older, you are much more confident with yourself or maybe had enough of ‘pretending’, you will say whenever you wanted to say and do whatever you like. Others’ opinions are now secondary.

It is perhaps what Playwright of Afar, Lee Shyh Jih’s mindset presently as he has just passed his 40 mark. This play was his meditation on life between 2006 and 2009; the characters in the story were 5 people he knows in real-life whereby each of them was having their dilemmas and struggles.

Shyh Jih was hoping that we can just put their names, genders and age aside for the time being (not important); taking time to listen what they wanted to say, as in our present world more people like to listen to their own voices more than listening to others, or worst they do not know how to listen anymore (that why they must watch this play even more lah. Haha! Kidding! =p)

He named his characters, number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Number 1 (acted by Tan Wan Sze) – questioning about one’s existence.

Number 2 (Doreen Toh) – pondering on life and death.

Number 3 (Karen Tan) – forgetting about one’s past (Is it scary to find out you are?)

Number 4 (Tan Shou Chen) – forcing to be happy and contented, as people from the third world countries are suffering.

Number 5 (Goh Seok Ai) – hoping to be loved, bothering by own appearance.

They were trapped in a confined area with many transparent balloons which joined to one another like the molecules structure we see in our science classes, just figure a big round balloon linked by a long tube of balloon, with another long tube (like tree branches) and then tied with another big round balloon of different size, like an individual tree but the root was weighed down by a ice-cube in block (very creative!). This set made me feel like I was watching a sci-fi movie, but sometimes like a maze to me, with mystical feel and rooms of imagination. (Lim Weiling, beautiful!)

This set also made me feel like in someone’s brain, connected in veins with brain cells that were entangled, so complex with lots of thoughts interchanging. But this brain lived five different minds.

Sometimes they were at their own corners, muttering thoughts aloud. Sometimes one or two or more met, engaging in conversation (sometimes connected, sometimes disconnected) about weather, ‘dead’line, love, hate, memory, procreation, etc – about life.

While I was listening and seeing them so busy sharing their own problems, sometimes to the extent of self-centered (Sigh! Human nature), I was wondering how tedious God must be in listening to all of our problems in zillions as compared to me who only had to deal with five people.

As much as I would like to focus in each of every one, but it was just too much for me to handle them all at once. When I was just about to mediate on one topic earnestly, another person with another topic would distract me.

If this play was a buffet, then don’t be greedy, just took what you can take, I told myself. It was where I started to enjoy this play with whatever segment that stood out to me. No point making myself suffer to understand all the meanings in life in just one night, within one and half hour with no intermission.

I enjoyed the poetic dialogue which Shyh Jih had crafted them so beautifully, which had lost some of its power in the English translation. His lines seemed simple but philosophical.

I liked it when there was one part in the play, when the light was totally shut off, leaving us in darkness, ‘forcing’ us to concentrate what the characters were saying and imagined their actions as we could only hear their movements.

I was mercerised by the scene when number 5 was walking towards an approaching bus, standing in front and spread her hands out like wings, while all the others were shocked in ‘witnessing’ her action.  None of us saw any real bus, of course, but the intelligent playing with sound and light (Good job to Darren Ng & Lim Woan Wen) had made us in believing how huge the bus must be and how great the impact must be! That will be the climax of the play to me, actually!

Anyway, like what I had shared earlier, there were really too many things in this play. It will be very ambitious of me, if I was even trying to share everything with you in this review. Even if I do so, you might be already bored to death or went to your lullaby-land.

If you asked me whether I enjoyed this play, not trying to be ‘politically’ correct, my answer is yes and no.

I enjoyed how some scenes were presented, and how symbolic some items represented, like the bursting balloon which flew up to the top, seemed like the lost of hope, etc.

I like it to be able to feel with the characters, when they showed their frustration by smashing the ice (from the set) hard onto the floor while the broken pieces scattering all over the place; their confusions when they were wiping the floor with ice; their emotions had showed so visually to me.

However, I did not like to think too much and prefer something that is more direct and simple, something more cheerful and positive.

Maybe life is not so easy after all, you may say.

But it is not as difficult as you think.

If you ask me what will be my thought of someone who in 4 years time in passing the 40 mark, I would like to say – the simple, the better.

P.S: Bravo to Karen and Shou Chen for their attempt and effort in conquering Chinese in Afar (Karen’s second play but Shou Chen’s first play in Chinese) as they were more fluent in their English. (After this, their Chinese will reach to another level!) It is what I called professionalism. Look up to you both! (^-<)V


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