The hype about the unprecedented amount of full-frontal male nudity in this play was misplaced – it was a notable effort for far better reasons than that. Rehaan Engineer’s magnificent Marquis de Sade was mincing, offensive and completely riveting all at the same time. Deprived of the ability to speak later in the play, even with nothing more than whimpers and contortions of his beleaguered body to express himself through, his sheer presence continued to dominate the stage as he submitted to the increasing cruelties of his wardens. Daniel Jenkins also acquitted himself commendably in the challenging role of Abbe de Coulmier, which I think could have grated terribly if attempted by a lesser actor.
But speaking of lesser actors, I’m afraid I have to say that this was yet another local theatre production I have watched where the “foreign talent” so obviously outshone even well-regarded local actors such as Lim Kay Tong and Karen Tan that it was embarrassing. Where Rehaan Engineer, Daniel Jenkins and Andy Tear (the architect) were able to enunciate every word clearly and make the most of the dramatic possibilities of every line, Lim Kay Tong and Karen Tan seemed to struggle even with clear diction and effective voice projection. Tan did manage to inject her lines with a fair amount of life later in the play but Lim continued to deliver his lines with a frustrating lack of nuance or timing right to the end.
Set design was as impressive as in the other luna-id/Samanatha Scott-Blackhall play I’ve watched (The Physicists), though I’m afraid I don’t know enough about theatre production to know who should get the credit for that. Where it would have been easy, even easily justifiable given the play’s setting in a mental asylum, to go for a stark minimalist sort of set design, this production featured set design so versatile, creative and simply beautiful that it just made minimalism look lazy.
Although I’m still undecided about the ability of our local actors to pull off roles set in contexts very different to ours, I’m slowly but surely beginning to regain my faith in local theatre productions. I’ve spent about $100 on theatre tickets this month alone, and don’t regret a cent. When’s the last time you went to a local theatre production? If it’s been a while, maybe you should consider returning.