Being Haresh Sharma.

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Credit: Tuckys Photography.

There is plenty happening this weekend, be it the Singapore International Festival of the Arts and the SHINE Festival. Being Haresh Sharma is one of the choices for any art-goer and anyone interested in the history of local literature. It is also one of the best things to have happened this season.

What can be better than experiencing art that speaks for itself about the society we have been in until today?

The two hour fifteen minute show is a collaboration between The Necessary Stage (TNS) and Cake Theatrical Productions. Directed by Natalie Hennedige, the text is based off plays and text written by Haresh Sharma over 30 years. Interweaving stories and memorable characters from his body of work, many questions and glimpses of Singapore’s political system, social and spiritual aspects. It is truly experiencing life through art, and perceiving the ordinary as the most extraordinary moments we can go through.

It is also a homecoming of sorts with TNS turning 30 this year and Natalie having started out in theatre under their youth wing back in 1994.

Known for their bold artistic visions and visual sensory experiences, Cake Theatrical Productions never fails to surprise you with their performance direction and psychedelic colours,designs in their style of contemporary theatre and non-linear telling of a story. Made up of a team driven by the artistic, this performance is nothing short of all the shows Cake has done to earn their reputation.

With the set design and multimedia elements done by neontights and Brian Gothong Tan, it is a string of surprises with each scene and how every set piece represents a certain story in any point in time. The accompanying multimedia use of visuals and videos coyly manipulate your emotions as an audience and your perception of what is actually happening on stage. Even the lights and sound designs played up the suspension of reality and blurred the lines for the audience – always having a sense of mystery and unveiling.

The cast was absolutely enchanting in their performance. With each one having been an actor-collaborator with TNS before in the company’s devised works, it is particularly meaningful for them to come together as an ensemble to bring the creative to life. Consisting of Ghafir Akbar, Jean Ng, Jo Kukathas, Julius Foo, Karen Tan and Siti Khalijah Zainal, the emotional energy was undeniable and the presence lovely to witness as an audience member.

Though some text was lost due to minor technical errors and raised voices in too high a pitch, the acting performance held its own against all the other elements offered on stage to form a big complete picture. There was little competition between the various elements put together, so the audience would not be distracted from the main action on stage.

Juggling multiple characters and quick changes, the actors did most of the work with such ease and incredible precision. The transitions were as much part of the performance (with the crew being efficient and clean in movements as well), and were enjoyable. The quality of transformation was present all the time – be it the set, the multimedia or even the actors themselves switching from one scene to another in a snap. The level of performance and craft was inspiring, really, and leaves one in awe.

On that note, with all the boundaries pushed and proof of how putting up a performance is indeed a craft and career, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves because every member of the cast could be seen having fun. We had the privilege of experiencing the work of individuals coming together to form a collective to do what they love and believe in. That joy is infectious, and we definitely felt it.

With so much talk about the National Day day song flop and what exactly being Singaporean might mean, Being Haresh Sharma is a way to look at our country in a different perspective – through art, through writing and through performance from the heart. It does not offer a fixed answer, but it gives an open-ended sense of possibilities of how you may want to think what being Singaporean is.

We just wish the run would last longer, because this level of work should be shared as much as possible.

Originally written for Popspoken.

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