Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh is a participatory piece of theatre inspired by Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life. Fragmented, non-linear and similar to a video game experience, audience-participants are tasked as researchers of corporate conglomerate ARC to decipher Anne – an unknown entity that has infected their Artificial Intelligence (AI) called J.O.A.N.. As researchers, we are required to search various rooms to discover who Anne is before her fragmented memories completely corrupt the system.
These memories or anomalies occur in the form of characters who appear sporadically. A woman (Julie Wee) furiously scribbles on mirrors in the first room. A man (Farez Najid) speaks in Malay to his invisible daughter, before leaving, slamming the door. A woman in a nightgown (Suhaili Safari) screams and clutches her left palm. A man (Henrik Cheng) hangs himself in the room’s cupboard after speaking to a lover we do not see. A young woman (Sabrina Sng) dances in front of a mirror.
Rifling through items we find in each room, including lingerie, medical reports and toys, our team becomes ever more objective-driven. We think little about the violation of privacy or how Anne might feel if she ever comes to know of us ransacking her belongings. Even J.O.A.N.’s reminders about the violation of privacy fall on deaf ears. We are too caught up in the game.
After all, we have been invited to search. So is my subconscious moral itch going to stop me? No, it has been completely overridden by the need to complete the tasks to win the game.
However, momentum for the search is lost as the memories/anomalies keep appearing. The background music drowns out the voices. The scenes, such as Cheng’s portrayal of a deranged newscaster, become more vague while seemingly offering no help in our mission to discover Anne. All the necessary clues can be found in tangible forms in the artifacts in the rooms. Instead of aiding, the memories/anomalies become almost distracting and purposeless.
Also, the time limits given are not strict and a minute more can actually be stretched out to another five minutes. The sense of urgency gradually leaks away; I feel no emotional stake so it does not matter whether we find out who Anne is or not. What am I doing here? Why is J.O.A.N. – the AI guide – so insistent about me making a judgment on Anne with so few clues and such sparse evidence for interpretation?
Then it becomes blindingly obvious that I, as an audience-participant, am being pushed to make judgments upon Anne because that is the aim of this theatrical experience. Choice is illusory. The narrative has been pretty much set from the beginning. Choosing which team I would be in at the start has not affected my experience in any way, since every team enters all the same spaces anyway. Interest dissipates because I am not actually playing by my own agency but as a pawn in achieving the goal the creators have set for me.
It is risks that make video games exciting – I make my decisions as a player and am invested, because I will lose something if a wrong move or decision is made. It is the strict rules and the risks that spark that sense of urgency that provides an impetus to push forward, but that is lacking here.
Attempts: Singapore is a great try at involving the audience actively in bringing the show to life. But it still needs more incentive to spur us further. Otherwise, it just becomes another escape room adventure.
Originally written for Arts Equator.