“Say something nice,” demands one of the characters in the play Past Caring. Saying nice things matters for human beings. But it becomes the first causality when people start discriminating against other people, when they begin to celebrate their differences for all the wrong reasons—resulting in racism, denial of justice and exploitation. That is one of the principal themes of Past Caring, the most recent production from Necessary Stage. The play is written and directed by the award-winning Playwright-Director team of Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan. It is inspired by a poem written by Australian writer Henry Lawson.
The play is an ambitious take on serious themes (adoption, racism, displacement, abandonment, family, territories) and the story encompasses Singapore and Australia, exploring the subject with a stereoscopic vision. There are three main episodes in the drama: the opening one is set during the Second Great War, another one is set in the 1970s and the episode in between deals with the present.
Four main actors Leroy Parsons (Australia), Glynis Angell (Australia), Siti Khalijah (Singapore) and Sukania Venugopal (Malaysia) play a clutch of characters who expose the cracks in the two societies. The tracks include an Indian teacher in Australia distraught by a racist experience and the condescending attitude of an Australian colleague, an Indian mother with her adopted Chinese daughter who is abandoned during the Japanese attack and rivalry and eventual relationship between a Singaporean Malay student and an aboriginal student at an Australian university. There also is an episode that takes the tension, if you will, into the skies—it is a funny one where two flight attendants of ‘rival’ airlines exchange some charming repartees.
Within 70 minutes of playtime, the scene of action moves back and forth between Australia and Singapore, between the past and the present, enmeshed within a narrative that plays out so smoothly, without giving one the jolt of disconnect. That clearly shows the mastery of Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan who have structured the sequences so flawlessly. Except for the first fifteen-twenty minutes when one takes a bit of time to soak in the minimalist atmosphere and the introduction to the play’s themes, the acts unfold with such convincing speed that one is left in a tailspin of breathlessness, not able to predict when the final moment comes.
Apart from the very capable actors, the multimedia work by artists Loo Zihan (Singapore) and Kim Lawler (Australia) make one at times feel as if one were watching a piece of creative non-fiction (can you say that for a play?). Their pieces provide the hard support to the fluid acting of the quartet. Their works’ contemporariness and significance cannot be overemphasized—it even has a track of interviews with Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore where their struggles are documented. Be it a migrant labourer or a maid, their situation has been portrayed with a humaneness that warms the cockles of one’s heart.
Tony Yap’s physical dance initially seems out of place but soon he makes you accept his presence. As the play moves on, his choreography provides a counterpoint to the story in a fusion of complementariness. Films have background score. Tony Yap’s choreography becomes the background score of Past Caring. His last act amazingly gives closure to the line of a story that can happen only in a play.
The four main actors are extremely talented. They have given a riveting performance but they excel only when they are in the skin of a particular character. Their acting is spontaneous and if there was any ad libbing anywhere, the improvisation did not show.
When people say something nice, it gives a release to an inner, incipient tension. That is what happens in the play which is buoyed by a positive spirit, the spirit that wins in the end.
If politics is the art of the possible, Past Caring stretches the possibilities of drama, successfully tackling serious themes that keep hounding our societies in different garbs. Standing ovation guys!
Dates: From 25 February to 8 March 2009
Wed 25 Feb - Sat 28 Feb 2009 and Thurs 5 Mar - Sat 7 Mar, 8pm
Sat 28 Feb - Sun 1 Mar 2009 and Sat 7 Mar - Sun 8 Mar 2009, 3pm
Venue: The Necessary Stage Black Box
Tickets: $27, $22