Tickets from SISTIC and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM): $20 (standard adult). www.singaporebiennale.org
The Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors is on from Oct 27, 2016 to Feb 26, 2017.
Tickets from SISTIC and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM): $20 (standard adult). www.singaporebiennale.org
Five Easy Pieces
August 20, 2016
Singapore International Festival of Arts
By Clara Chow
A play about a paedophile-murderer acted out by children has the potential to be harrowing or sensational, but Five Easy Pieces proves gently moving and powerful.
The performance – a collaboration between Swiss director Milo Rau and his International Institute of Political Murder (IPPM), and arts centre CAMPO from Ghent (a city and municipality in the Flemish region of Belgium) – takes as its subject the case of Belgian serial killer and child molester Marc Dutroux. Dutroux, who was arrested in 1996 for the abduction, rape and torture of six girls, aged eight to 19. Four of them were murdered by him. The widely publicised case involved public outcry over police mishandling the investigation, an escape, and an alleged government cover-up which dogged the subsequent trial.
To be honest, I was unfamiliar with the Dutroux case and googled most of the details after watching the play. The production is less interested in rehashing the facts of the case and presenting a straightforward account of the Dutroux atrocities, than it is in this dilemma: How do you use child actors in a show with such dark themes? Where do we draw the line when it comes to exposing our children to the evil that human beings are capable of, in order to caution them or tell them something about compassion, without traumatising them?
The result of Rau’s text and direction is both lyrical and complex. Despite the word “easy” in its title, the production attempts to answer these questions, without resorting to pat homilies and easy truths.
As the house gradually fills and audience members take their seats to cheerful piano muzak, seven young actors – the youngest is eight, while the oldest is in their teens – lounge around on stage, chatting among themselves. Eventually, the lights go down. An interviewer/director figure (Peter Seynaeve) takes his place behind a desk stage left. His face is projected on a video screen occupying centre stage. He interviews the young performers: “What is freedom?” “What’s the hardest thing about acting?” “What does theatre mean to you?” Through this Q&A, the child performers’ personalities, personal philosophies, aspirations and thought processes are revealed. Maurice Leerman, for example, is a powdered method actor who draws on his memories of coughing in his mother’s womb for his portrayal of an 81-year-old man. Elle Liza Tayou is a Rihanna fan, who has a soulful voice. Willem Loobuyck almost died as a baby, but survived after a liver transplant. During rehearsals for this play, he found out that, coincidentally, his co-actor Rachel Dedain’s mother had been one of the doctors who had saved him.
The tone is light, witty, sometimes wry, although Seynaeve can quickly shade into a stern, autocratic persona, silencing them when they grow too boisterous. This is a subtle touch, I feel, which underscores how the balance of power, when it comes to any interaction between a child and an adult, is always unfairly weighted towards the latter – an appropriate reminder, given the theme of kidnapping and abuse here.
Cast interview/introduction over, the play-within-a-play – essentially scenes which tell the Dutroux story from the perspectives of different characters – begin. Film and live-action meld, as the child actors perform in front of a film with adult actors delivering the same actions and lines. There is a whimsical feel to this doubling of action, and I am reminded of Wes Anderson films, in which child prodigies such as Max Fischer and Margot Tenenbaum often attempt to play roles, both on stage and in real/reel life, beyond their years. But this doubling is also an essential part of the child actors’ process: in mimicking the adult actors in the film, they could perhaps bypass the emotional process that adult actors have to put in to craft their characters. They were accessing the scene once removed, and perhaps shielded from the implications and emotional fallout of dealing with the dark material. As the interview with the production’s dramaturg Stefan Blaske in the programme notes states: “At the start of rehearsals, we acted out fragments from Scenes From A Marriage by Ingmar Bergman with the children… The children understood intellectually what was happening in those highly intricate human scenes and acted them out, but without recognising the actual emotions.”
This is something interesting to consider, as an audience member dealing with the intensity of some of the scenes presented, and wondering about the perversity of making children act out abuse. In one scene, where Pepijn Loobuyck – with Polly Persyn playing his wife beside him – has to speak a monologue to the camera in character as the father of one of the missing girls who was eventually found dead, I held my breath, as I always do when I relate, as a parent, to characters going through the pain of losing a child. This is suddenly interrupted when Seynaeve, directing the scene, asks Pepijn to cry. When the youth says he cannot, he is handed something to apply to his eyes to make them sting, and then told to speak the last paragraph again. As the chemically-induced tears roll down Pepijn’s eyes, this viewer experiences a disjunction between one’s genuine emotions, and the knowledge – once acquired, unable to be unlearnt – that the actor evoked that reaction in you through artifice.
That, perhaps, gets to the nub of one of the concepts Five Easy Pieces tries to explore. Children, especially very young children, are often unable to distinguish between fact and fiction; the real or pretend (my six-year-old, for example, is often asking me if something he saw in a movie is real; if Hong Kong has indeed been destroyed by a rampaging kaiju). Theatre, by virtue of its need for suspension of disbelief, and acting, by requiring performers sometimes to compartmentalise and ‘deal’ with the paces they put themselves through, are the perfect vehicles to introduce children to how to regulate their emotions and build some defence mechanisms. I like how Five Easy Pieces allow the tension to pile up in each scene, before disrupting it and allowing the child actors to deflate the anxiety with their own take on what just happened. “How do you act dead?” Rachel wants to know, after re-enacting the re-enactment of burying a victim’s body (again, the layers of removal from the ‘real’ thing as a form of insulation). In confronting the horror of Dutroux’s crime through the lens of acting, the young people are able to address it in terms they can understand, asking questions that hopefully will enable them to cope psychologically with the cruelty that does exist in the world.
Along the way, they tease out complications for themselves, raising the issue of culpability and moral taint. “If I shoot you,” asks Polly, levelling a finger pistol at us, the audience, “is it Polly the character or Polly the actor who shoots you?”
(I am reminded of how, in Margaret Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake, when Jimmy asks Oryx, a former child porn actress, if the sex she shot in her films was actual or simulated, she replies: All sex is real.)
There is one point in the play where the perversity of having children act as the victims of a paedophile does cut too close to home for me: when eight-year-old Rachel is commanded by Seynaeve to take off her clothes, and then filmed performing a series of spoken letters as 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne, whom Dutroux kept in a dungeon. Hearing a little girl talk about her captor putting himself inside her, and telling her that “the sex should be fun”, is tough, and Rachel later hints at her discomfort with her scene, when she says that she wished she could change certain things about the play, except that it happened in real life. I wish we could have heard more from Rachel about how she approached playing her role, but a part of me also wonders if this counts as morbid curiosity on my part, as exploitation on the producers’ parts, and/or complicity in her exploitation on all our parts as audience members. I do not have an answer to this.
One recent review of the production had criticised the production and its child actors for not fully inhabit their roles, which I feel is missing the point. The schism between the self that acts and the self that watches is very much deliberate here, I think. This is not theatre as mere entertainment and immersion, but a kind of induction and inoculation of the psyche. In view of that, it seems a shame that the R-18 rating for the play in Singapore meant that many teens who might have benefitted from this theatrical encounter missed it. And parents who might have wanted to make for themselves the decision of whether to experience Five Easy Pieces with their offspring and to guide them through it were unable to do so.
Would I bring my own children to see it? The answer, because of my children’s unique personalities, has to be, regretfully, no. My ten-year-old has a phobia of death, and is very likely to be upset by the subject of child murder. And it would all go over my happy-go-lucky six-year-old’s head. Still, I imagine that there will be families with kids mature enough to attend, and who will have thoughtful post-show discussions together. But the Singaporean censors’ reaction to the show is itself relevant to what Rau and his collaborators lay bare: childhood is a social construct that depends on cultural context. How do we and/or the state perceive and value children? I see them as little adults and are loathe to sugar-coat anything for them. Another person, however, might feel that innocence is precious and must be safe-guarded at all cost, for as long as possible.
Five New Pieces is a meta-narrative that encourages us to examine and re-examine our knee-jerk reactions, and our possibly patronising attitudes towards the young. Ultimately, it is a bravura turn, a tender effort, by precocious talents and budding actors. “Will you keep acting?” the white-haired director figure asks his charges near the end. I’m rooting for them, that they do.
How has it been since you won the Epigram Books Fiction Prize?
Still the same, actually. Though, at times, in my daydreams, I imagine different outcomes and possibilities: what if I have not won the prize? Maybe I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea of winning. Definitely a big milestone in my writing career.
What has changed, and what hasn't?
Nothing has changed; at least nothing tangible or visible in my eyes. More recognition, yes, but it has its own burdens. The work of writing remains the same: slow and painstaking, but always moving along, gradual and steady.
You mentioned to us at the awards dinner that you'll give your parents a treat with the prize money. Have you done so already?
They have been so busy with their work (they work on weekends) and taking care of my siblings’ kids, so it’s been postponed indefinitely. But soon, I hope.
Let's start at the beginning: What was your childhood like? What kind of imaginative life did you have?
My parents are hawkers, and have been for over thirty years. They used to clock super long hours, from 6am (with the preparations) to after eleven at night, but they have since cut down on the hours to take care of my siblings’ kids.
Perhaps, because we – my elder sister, my younger brother and I – were left alone at home most of the time, we had to find ways not to kill one another, and also to kill the long hours. Most of the time, we would be tearing the whole flat up, and keeping it a mess. We used to make “spider webs” from the reels of cassette tapes which covered the entire living room, and several times, we flooded the kitchen so we could pretend it was a (shallow) pool to swim in.
Occasionally, we would burn books and loose pieces of paper to make fires at the rubbish chute or open window. Why we never burnt down the flat remains a complete mystery to me. We might not have been the worst kids ever, but we were darn close.
When and how did you start to write?
Frankly, I don’t remember when exactly it was that I started writing – I wrote my first short story, in my early 20s to 'try it out', and the story was really terrible. At least I had the foresight to destroy/delete it then.
But I do remember making a conscious, deliberate decision to be a writer towards the end of 2004, during a solo trip to Redang, where I brought along my manuscript of short stories (the first draft of Free-Falling Man [Oh's debut story collection, published in 2006]) to edit. It was there that I knew (and convinced myself so) in my heart and gut, that I wanted to write very desperately, and that I was willing to do anything to write and to write well, even if it meant to give up most of the things that had made up my life then. It's a good trade-off, which I never regret, though there were hard times along the way.
I was working in one of the banks, in the marketing department, but I didn't quit my full-time job until 2007. I held onto my job, even after my decision, while writing my stories on the side. It was only after I published my second story collection, Never Been Better, that I quit my job and wrote full-time. By then, I had a small pool of savings to last me out for a couple of years; I was living with my parents at the time, so I only had to worry about my daily expenses.
What were some of the demons you wrestled with, early in your writing career?
The constant sense of inadequacy as a writer. Before I started writing short stories, the only pieces of writing I’d done are essays for assignments in the university, and a few freelance pieces on leisure and entertainment. That was the only writing experience I had, and it felt insufficient.
Plus, there was a very bad experience early on, after I’d completed the manuscript of stories for Free-Falling Man. An established local writer, who had seen the stories, had provided very discouraging feedback on my stories, basically telling me to reconsider my decision to become a writer. It almost killed me then, but I had managed to crawl out of it, eventually.
The self-doubt is always there, even now, and is actually useful in many ways, in how I approach and write each of my stories. I constantly ask myself: Is this the best you can write, and, if not, can you rewrite it again? This refrain, with its sting removed, is absolutely essential in shaping my craft in short-story writing.
How did the premise for The Infinite Sea evolve?
I knew I wanted to tackle the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, after it happened, and for a long while, I wanted to write a short story inspired/based on it. But somehow, in the shadow of my mind, I knew it “deserves” a bigger scope, and that I wasn’t ready to write it, yet.
At the start, I also knew the whole story would revolve around a small group of friends – which later became two couples – who had known each other for a long time, and how the disaster would test the strength and limits of their relationships, breaking and pulling them apart. The individual voices of the characters came to me, in drips and torrents, over time, each distinct and singular, and so, I gave each character a complete arc – their pasts, their unspoken histories, and the brick-and-mortar of their lives.
What was making the transition from short stories to novel-writing like? What was the hardest thing about it?
It was daunting, to say the least. Half of the time, I’m battling with myself—the doubt, the incessant questioning, and the misery of the long road—and mostly it’s about my ability to write (this doubt is always there, trust me). I know I had a good idea for a novel; I just wasn’t sure I had it in me to fulfil the scope and ambition of the novel in my head then, and I really hate the idea that the novel I would be writing would be a paler, lesser version of what I’ve envisioned it to be (of course, the story in one’s mind would never match up to its final version; it’s a completely different beast all together, and it’s not a bad thing at all).
Because I structured each chapter in the novel as a short story, in episodic form and taking turns with each of the main characters, I was able to dismiss the fear of writing the novel. My years of short-story writing saved my ass, so to speak. I strove to pack each chapter/story with as much as I could, so they could each stand alone.
How do you balance the desire for experimentation with form, with the need to tell the story?
Story always comes first, for me.
Once I have the gist/whiff of the story, I would consider the form, and also how I would like to tell it differently. At the start, I would try different structures and ways of story-writing, which can sometimes be exhausting and derivative, but it’s a useful process of trial and error. You know what you’re capable of, and what you’re good at, and what best serves the story.
But, sometimes, you just want to toss everything up in the air, and plunge in headlong – that’s what makes writing fresh, alive and novel.
We had a conversation about your rewriting of the wuxia form in English (in a story in Love, or Something Like Love). How did that come about?
I grew up in the early and mid-90s, and it was the renaissance of HK swordfighting/wuxia films, and I swear I watched every swordfighting/wuxia film that was ever screened in the local cinema. My all-time favourites are 新龙门客栈, 笑傲江湖, and 笑傲江湖之东方不敗. I knew, of course, that there are swordfighting novels in Chinese, but I was so terrible at the language that I knew it was impossible to read any of them. So I decided to write one myself, and I had a fun/insane time coming up with the plot, intrigue and twists-and-turns that are the backbone and fundamentals of a great swordfighting film/story, I feel.
How do you think your Singaporean identity and bilingual background manifests in/influences your writing?
I don’t think it has any significant influence or impact on how and what I write, at least not from what I can sense from my writings. When I write, I bring all of myself into it, and it’s really hard to distinguish or separate different parts of my being – physical, emotions, psyche, tics, background, identity – from one another. If this does come up in my writings, well, so be it – it could easily be a conscious choice, or an unmediated decision, but I would usually let the story dictate its own needs, and to find ways to fulfil, or overcome, them. I very rarely like to force my hand on the story that I’m writing.
What is your writing routine like? Do you have quirks - lucky charms you must have on your desk, secret writing places, etc.?
Now, I write in the day, for about three to four hours. And because I live on my own, and have a writing room, I write there all the time. Usually, it’s breakfast, and then writing; most of the time, I have to coax myself into the study room to write. When I lack the inspiration or desire to write for the day, I would read a short story from a writer I like or respect, and hope/pray/beg that it would trigger something in me to start writing.
The whole process of getting started all over again every day never gets old. And no, there’s no magic to writing for me, unless it’s all imagination.
Who is your first reader?
I don’t have a first reader, though sometimes I would show early drafts of some stories to a close friend, but not all my stories. Some stories, which are usually the tougher pieces, are only out in public, and available for all to read, when they are published.
I get very self-conscious with the earlier drafts, and always try to be merciless with these drafts – rewriting them again and again – before I send them out into the world.
Who are your favourite authors, and who are you reading right now?
Some writers whom I’ve grown to love recently are: Hanya Yanagihara, whose A Little Life, totally devastated me—how is it possible to pack in so much beauty and cruelty and kindness and sadness into one novel? —and Tessa Hadley, whose short stories are truly ravishing, meticulous and shot through with wry, penetrative observations.
Of course, the perennials: Alice Munro, George Saunders, Karen Russell, Yoko Ogawa, and Li Yiyun.
Right now, I’m reading Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare. She’s a writing goddess; I’ll read (and study and make notes about) anything she writes.
What are you working on now/next?
I’m working on a new story collection that will consist of speculative fiction pieces, titled Signs of Life. And I’m hoping to start my second novel next year; the idea for it seems ripe for reaping.
How does one stay financially viable as an author?
Marry up! Find a rich sponsor/patron! Apply for the mother-father scholarship! :P
It's the question I ask myself all the time, back then and even now. My solution: when I'm broke and need to survive, I find a full-time job and work for a couple of years/months. Save enough (and when I get bored and restless with full-time work), and I quit and write. Repeat.
Along the way, I look around for freelance writing/teaching jobs, which help just a tiny bit. My resume is a tattered patchwork of jobs - you can imagine what the HR of the companies I worked at previously had to say about this! But we do what we can to survive and write.
Notes on Revisiting Bukit Brown Cemetery: A review of Drama Box's It Won't Be Too Long - by Clara Chow
It seemed like a good idea at the time, buying a ticket to an arts performance taking place in a cemetery at 5.30am.
But as I stumble out of bed in pitch blackness, silencing the alarm on my mobile phone with my thumb, I am in two minds about going. The PSI is 78 (I check haze.gov.sg blearily), my eyes are bloodshot from a dust allergy, and the huddled shape of my husband in bed looks warm and comfortable.
Besides, a part of my brain whispers, what if you go alone to Bukit Brown and there are only a handful of other people there, and you get lost?
In the end, the heart wins: if I don’t go, I’ll never know what I missed, in the cemetery that won’t be there for too long.
It Won’t Be Too Long is the kind of epic, multi-part project that Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun habitually dreams up. It comprises two parts, commissioned by and mounted during the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2015.
The first, The Lesson, was a free forum theatre event held from Sept 9 to 12, 2015, under the Singapore theatre company’s white-and-green inflatable tent, affectionately dubbed Goli (as marbles are known in Singapore), in Toa Payoh. Given the scenario of a new MRT station coming up in the housing estate, participants role-played as policy-makers, power-brokers and property agents, to discuss and decide what must go in the neighbourhood to make way for the station, while others observed.
The second, The Cemetery, moves from the hypothetical to the specific. Further divided into two parts – Dawn and Dusk – the ticketed production takes as found site, launch pad and inspiration Bukit Brown Cemetery, off Sime Road, almost at the centre of the island.
Background-y bit: In 2011, a dual four-lane road cutting through the cemetery, which houses an estimated 100,000 Chinese tombs dating back to the mid-19th century, was announced by the Land Transport Authority. Separately, the 233-hectare site – the world’s largest Chinese cemetery outside of China – has also been earmarked by the government for future residential use. Controversy erupted, as heritage groups and concerned citizens attempted to save the site in its entirety and questioned the authorities’ efforts at genuine public engagement. Nevertheless, in 2013, the tender to construct the new road was awarded. Works are currently underway and will last until 2017.
Dawn takes place in the wee hours in Bukit Brown itself, on Sept 18 and 19, while Dusk is staged at the School of the Arts’ studio theatre at 8pm, on the same days. The idea, obviously, is for audience members to attend the Dawn experience, before moving onto the Dusk show – although it is possible to see one without the other.
I am now driving down a lamp-less access road to the old cemetery gates. An usher’s flashing torch guides me to the makeshift carpark.
On the way to the gathering point for the show, I fall into step next to a female form. It turns out to be my friend Jennifer Teo, curator and activist, whom I grasp by the elbow in delight (and relief that I don’t have to wander down dark paths on my own).
“Go ahead,” she tells me, pointing me in the right direction, “I’m just going to light a joss stick.” And she is gone, ducking behind the white pillars and rusted wrought iron bars of the old Lorong Halwa gates.
I find a sizeable crowd at the gathering point – at least fifty, maybe a hundred people. After a briefing (dump your food and drinks, or else monkeys, blah blah), we follow the ushers down a path, filing quietly, not disturbing the stillness under the silhouettes of trees. We sit on two rows of wooden benches. When those fill up, we stand.
In the middle distance, on a path that slopes up from left to right, six dancers begin to move. Ghostly, white-clad in candlelight. They tap their forearms rhythmically; dash up and down; raise their arms to the sky, like students willing a great teacher in the sky to call upon them or supplicants. Mostly, this occurs in silence, broken occasionally by the humming of an ominous Jaws-esque tune from the dancers (or “Movement Performers”, according to the programme booklet) themselves and, later, accidentally, by the weird, insistent note of a bird’s call.
At times, they get into the formation of a rough arrow-head: taking turns to support the dancer at the tip, who falls backwards again and again. Each time he falls, more and more of his compatriots rush forward to prop him back up. The effect is that of some Sisyphean effort. I am reminded – rightly or wrongly – of the famous WWII image of soldiers labouring to raise the American flag on Iwo Jima.
We sit and watch for more than an hour, oscillating the air around our faces with paper fans. The day lightens gradually, and my eyes finally figure out that the black lumps a few metres away from our feet are faded tombstones, sunk into grassy mounds. Grey clouds threaten to drizzle on our heads. To my surprise, another black lump near the dancers turns out to be an upright piano, on which one performer proceeds to play a haunting tune.
A woman rides a bicycle onto the scene, stares curiously and snaps a photo of the performers. This may be, or may not be, part of the act. Then, stripping down to black underthings, the dancers run out of view. It is an ending that borders on whimsy, and we clap as the candles go out with wisps of smoke.
Post-show, we are offered the option of going on a guided tour of the cemetery with the Brownies, a group of Bukit Brown volunteers. Not quite sure what to make of what I’ve just seen, sleepy and pensive, I opt, instead, to go home to bed.
Walking back to my car, I find myself studying the tombs along the way – some with Peranakan tiles, others with their own stone benches for visiting descendants to rest their weary legs. I pick out the Chinese characters chiselled into the headstones: 草娘 (Grass Maiden), 快娘 (Fast Maiden), 月娘 (Moon Maiden), 金泉 (Golden Spring). Such quaint, old-fashioned names.
Next to the path, a bougainvillea has ended up grafted on top of a clump of bamboo, its magenta flowers sprouting like beads of blood on top of the strangled stems. It is a strange new plant, struggling for dominance within itself, each part unable to live without the other now.
Out of the jungle, I walk beside foreign construction workers, starting their work day. A work day which involves digging up and replacing bits of Bukit Brown, similar to what I just witnessed, with asphalt and concrete.
In a black box theatre, dominated by a chalk drawing of the sprawling Bukit Brown topography on the ground, three “Verbatim Actors” speak the lines of various players in the Bukit Brown ‘saga’.
Thespians Timothy Nga, Karen Tan and Josphine Tan switch seamlessly through a dramatis personae including Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin, Brownie Claire Leow, SOS Bukit Brown’s Jennifer Teo and then-Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, as well as amateur historians and Hokkien-spouting tomb-keepers.
Playwright Jean Tay’s script draws from interviews as well as material on public record, such as Minister Tan’s Facebook post (“A Personal Reflection: Bukit Brown and what it means for all our pasts and our futures”, Nov 6, 2011). The resulting panoply of voices is entertaining, thought-provoking and moving. By presenting the issue from the angles of different stake-holders, Dusk manages to convey that such situations are rarely clear-cut – that practical considerations of land use must jostle against the impulse to preserve one’s history and national heritage.
As a 1918 report from the Government Commission on Singapore Housing, quoted by Kok in his programme notes, put it, “the claims of the living must prevail over those of the dead”. Or must they?
Director Kok’s project is both elegy and after-the-fact documentation of the beating heart that the cemetery has ironically revealed itself to be. The characters argue back and forth, across space and time, their monologues stitched together into a patchwork of debate. Behind-the-news stories of personal conviction are told.
When the ever-watchable Karen Tan, speaking as Dr Chua, articulates the deep disappointment she felt as the volunteers’ efforts to save Bukit Brown from urban redevelopment hit a road block, one’s heart goes out to her. When Teo, translated through art and actor, reveals how she stopped conducting tours at the cemetery, because it became too hard watching all the features she once knew and loved disappear, you recognise the signs of emotional trauma.
The action is broken up by screen projections of real news releases and press reports, which help contextualise, move the action forward, as well as rein in the emotional tenor of the piece – Brechtian breaks, if you like. And yet, it is also a subtle mood piece, which leaves one in little doubt as to where the creative team’s sympathies lie.
Drama Box’s forte has always been in articulating the sense of nostalgia and urban loss that has become a condition of Singapore living. In 2006, the company staged A Stranger At Home, a Singapore Arts Festival commission, at the Drama Centre, which combined film produced by Royston Tan, known for his chronicling of fabulously off-beat and disappearing things from getai to parking summons attendants.
Like A Stranger At Home, It Won’t Be Too Long: Dusk also features music by Singapore band par excellence The Observatory. The difference is, this time, the band plays live, a searing rock track at the close of the production. “August is the cruellest… wrap me up in straw,” croons frontman Leslie Low, as the rest of the band rages musically behind him. “Are we wrong, or are we right?” It is raw and loud, melancholic and frustrated, and ends with high-pitched feedback. One cannot help but think of feedback, too, in the sense of civil society’s dialogue.
As the Verbatim Actors cycle through their repertoire of talking heads, the Movement Performers are present – in fact, have been present from the start, pre-speech – in the space, executing the same actions as they did in Dawn.
In the intimate theatre space, they are no longer shadowy figures glimpsed from afar, but too, too solid flesh, their feet picking up white dust from the outlines chalked on the floor, leaving a trail of prints all over the map as the show unfolds, a slow-burn visualisation of the way humans leave their imprint on the land they inhabit.
With a shock, I recognise the Dawn performance for what it is for me: the ghost of this very show – an after-image seared upon the retina. Leached of meaning and context, Dawn had been enacted in the very place that had become a foregone conclusion in Dusk. To me, Dawn was/is the future; a future in which talking had/has become moot. Only mourning, morning, mourning.