Written by Faith Ng and directed by Claire Wong, Normal is back after a completely sold out run in 2015. This is the opening act of Checkpoint Theatre‘s 15th Anniversary and it simply promises of greater things to come. Poetic and poignant in its story-telling, it really hits you as an audience when you realise that this is reality for many people around us, or maybe even for yourself.
Normal follows the tale of Ashley and Daphne – two friends struggling with the system as Secondary Five Normal Academic students. When their form teacher left and is replaced by the new Ms Sarah Hew, it becomes a journey of rediscovery, growth and facing their greatest fear. But is it really too late for change to occur or does the system tear down those it promises to help?
The set and props are simple and functional – leaving focus on the acting and the text to drive the play forward. Designed by Eucien Chia, the set is made up of all items and furniture one can find in a typical classroom. While retaining blinders to frame the stage, we enjoyed every transformation the active performance space took up with clean movements done to the tables and stools. Effective and comfortable to look at from every perspective shift, the set itself gives the actors power to illustrate the passing of time and audience members the liberty to imagine every scene.
Another enjoyable aspect is the ensemble and their use of music. Made up of Cerys Ong, Chery Yang, Danielle Cutiongco, Faith Sim, Hana Nadira, Hazell Restan, Lala Gwen Thomas, Leianne Tan, Lim Meng Jiat and Yo Chen, the sheer force of numbers in this group gives them a powerful presence. The singing and using their voices as instruments for sound effects is outstanding. Even though the mumbling between transitions and scenes can be distracting and inconsistent, the unity of the ensemble is impressive and disciplined.
The main cast, with some reprising their roles, left quite the impression on us as their characters. We appreciate the diversity in personality, backgrounds and capabilities presented to us. Representation is important, and as a script, the characters cover quite a wide spectrum that gives audience members the space to question and challenge, even, the attitudes and statements made.
Audrey Teong played Daphne to be an endearing girl who really wants to learn, despite being dismissed as slow. Claire Chung‘s Ashley gave us a lot of humour in her out-going persona and a lot of heartbreak when she unravels her deepest secret and desire. Marianne played by Lim Shi-An touches us with her pursuit of perfection and sense of detachment from the people around her.
As much as this play seems to be about students, it shows a lot about the teachers as well and how much they can be equally affected. We thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Julie Wee as Sarah Hew and Amanda Tee as Lynette Ang. Effectively playing colleagues with different goals and needs, the constant tension in this relationship progressed from the very first scene until the end of the play.
Most, if not all characters, go through their own journey and this is what makes the play meaningful and beautiful. It unravels slowly but shows the audience how human everyone is, even if there is denial and protocols to follow. The emotional depth is something to be applauded in this play, though the ending gave audience members more words to listen instead of giving us a bit more space to feel.
Multifaceted and beyond just tackling the shallow arguments of our educational system, it presents to us the possibilities of change while showing us the effects of our current mindsets. Instead of just ending the experience when the play finishes, conversations are sparked and empowers the audience to take active action for change.
Great theatre and storytelling has the potential to change the world, and we believe that Normal has what it takes to do so.
Originally written for Popspoken.