Quills (DBS Arts Centre, 23 September 2005)

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.

One Comment

  1. Hi Michelle,

    every year the gate theatre amuses the american tourists with “nice” renditions of Oscar Wildes plays. This year it was lady windemeere’s fan (only Ok, i preferred “an ideal husband” which has exactly the same plot, different improbable character names and a better ending)

    last years Wilde was “the Importance of being Earnest” – so when i read that the national theatre “the abbey” was staging it again i thought it was a typo.

    but this staging was… breathtaking

    the set, a kaleidoscope of art deco furnishings and flowers,

    it was tragic, the play itself was book-ended by tragic scenes from Wildes parisian fall from grace, which added depths of pathos to the triviality of his play.

    and crucially it was challenging, ..all the roles were played by men, (of varying degrees of beauty)… obviously this was the most well known detail when it ran, however the play was so good that by the time it finished that detail was reduced to a -mere triviality and the sad scenes depicting Wildes ostracisation in Paris had thought all in the audience the imporance of being earnest.

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