Friday, November 13, 2009

Theatre review: Sofaman

Sofaman is a collaboration between Singapore’s The Necessary Stage and The KnAM Theatre from Russia. This intercultural, multilingsofaman_smallual collaboration incorporating soundscape and multimedia focuses on the fundamental questions of today’s postmodern life: what are people looking for? Is the material progress made under the canopy of the globalised and capitalist marketplace that the world has become—billions of consumers, cogs in the wheel of capitalism—enough to satisfy our human yearnings?

The play involves a storyteller and the characters of his stories. The storyteller is the title character who sits on a wheel-chair like contraption and wears a white oversized headgear with a little light in it. He tells stories to a man with a suitcase. In turn, the man with a suitcase exchanges stories with him. But the play comes to life through the stories of the sofaman and the characters that dwell in his stories.

As the play progresses, a Singaporean woman and a Russian man fall in love but they quarrel about where to settle down. Their expectations from life are different, as different as summer and winter (snow). A Western woman develops a bond with a Malay Singaporean who has speech difficulties. Crossing barriers of language, they touch each others’ souls, give comfort to each other. How does it happen? Why does it happen? That is what the play seems to make us to think about.

The play’s characters, set in a mall (or a marketplace), remind us of our disjointed, cold urban lives. Their lives—full of chores, some travel but no family bonds—remind us of the perils of urbanization and how it can create vacuum in our souls. At the same time, the man from Russia, who presumably comes from a less urbanized setting, is consumed with the warmth and opportunities in a new, hyper-urbanized location (read Singapore). It is the juxtapositions of these two worlds—and the conflicting expectations of its inhabitants—that form the core of this drama. The play successfully brings forth the idea that love and rootedness, no matter how much progress we achieve in terms of materialism, will remain the eternal magnets for human souls.

In a way, the play recognizes the ills of life under capitalism. As German economist Sombart observed in the 19th century, even though capitalism enhances productivity and creates a higher material standard of living, it also cause loss in quality of life, robbing people of inner peace, of their relationship to each other and to nature and of the faith of their father. The play might not advocate people to overthrow the capitalist system but in a way it does question the illusions it perpetuates. It portrays the waking of workers (characters) from “thingafication” or “reification” (a construct by 20th century Hungarian philosopher and economist Georg Kukacs), “the inability to see that the human relations created by capitalism were the results of particular historical conditions that could be changed by human will.”

In well over 80 minutes, the play takes us through a surfeit of images and sounds and emotional landscapes of different shades. The audio-visual work is brilliant in the production. But this sometimes takes away from the emotional impact of the story as it interrupts our continuous dream.

This is a complex production and directors Alvin Tan and Tatiana Frolova and writer Haresh Sharma deserve full credit for weaving this intricacy in a presentable, less abstract avatar. In the cast, Siti Khalijah is outstanding but other actors such as Elena Bessonova, Dmitry Bochanov, Vladimir Dmitriev, Julius Foo and Jean Ng shine too. And the cameo by Charlie Chaplin is certainly a casting coup!

Performed in English, Russian and Mandarin
Get your tickets at

5 - 7 Nov & 11 - 14 Nov 2009, 8pm
7 - 8 Nov & 14 - 15 Nov 2009, 3pm

The Necessary Stage Black Box
#B1-02 Marine Parade Community Building

$27 | $22*

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