Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quiet Wisdom

The past three weeks have been really bad for me as I had to deal with changes, responsibilities and life's unpredictability. I do not plan to write everything that have happen to me here. It just serve to bring back anger and resentment. I'm searching for a sense of serenity and clarity; to find that quiet wisdom and to experience life with only those who really matter to me.

While I have gone through flashes of anger to throw it off my chest, I've only sunk deeper into a state of depression. Therefore, I'm seeking the other alternative.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Letter to the Forum

Dear readers, I've just written to the Straits Times Forum about our nation's postal service. In the event that my letter does not get published or is edited, I've decided to post my original letter here.

Singpost - Good Advertising Move but Should Improve Service Standards

I am writing in reaction to Singpost's advertising move in engaging artists to paint their post boxes as well as my recent experience at a post office. Firstly, I do congratulate Singpost's decisions to get artists to paint their post boxes as an effort to bring art to the city. It is a wonderful move to showcase our local artists as well as to inject vibrancy in the city while using the post boxes as a canvas. Additionally, this commissioning of artworks in celebration of the Youth Olympic Games is a wonderful reminder of our progress in being able to host such an event despite being a small nation.

However, a celebration of our nation’s progress must be matched by the progress of service standards of our postal service. In this case, two separate occasions at a particular Singpost branch have left me sorely disappointed. On both occasions, I was at a post office branch in my neighbourhood to post a greeting card to a friend studying overseas. When it was my turn, the staff failed to greet me and render their assistance in a polite manner. Furthermore, when I requested to buy stamps and obtain the necessary postmarks, they did not ask me if I would like to attach the stamps and the “By Air Mail” sticker myself. Worst of all, they took the letter from me and attached the stamps and sticker in such a nonchalant manner that it made the envelope appear very unsightly.

Such a service is unacceptable as not only did they fail to meet the basic service standards, it is also disrespectful to the customer by treating the letter in such a horrible fashion. While the practice of sending greeting cards and letters via. the postal service is uncommon nowadays, one must still treat the letter with respect for it contains the sincere thoughts and wishes of the sender. It also leaves a terrible impression on the recipient of the sender when the stamps and postmarks are attached in such a haphazard manner.

As such, I urge Singpost to review the service standards and practices of their staff as the standard of the national postal service does affect the image of the nation itself.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ode to a Mockingbird

Without a doubt, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird is a literary gem. This means that whoever attempts to stage its play adaptation will either make it or break it. They have to deal with doing justice to the piece, being constantly compared to many productions before them and the actor playing Atticus is up against Gregory Peck. But against all odds, Toy Factory's latest offering certainly made it.

The move to stage it in a surrealistic concept is certainly an edgy and a creative one as it serves as an experiment to see if this creative idea brings home the message better. The sparse and open stage sans side curtains has this raw feeling to it as all the mechanics of the stage can be seen even whilst in transition from scene to scene. This, together with the microphones hanging down, presents a vague and uncomfortable environment as if it seems to strips the whole play to its essential message as we watch the scenes unfold. It forces us to sub-consciously be so overwhelmingly aware of what is happening onstage.

This sense of unfamiliarity and discomfort is further enhanced by the lighting, sound design and props. The use of lighting that primary consists of blue and green hues with the occasional dash of red certainly creates this nightmarish dreamscape that emphasises the possibility of how severe and frightening a society can become when it is plagued by racism. This is complemented by the haunting soundscape that consists of civil rights song and rhythmic, industrial yet harsh sounds. To top it all off, the use of steel stools to depict the various setting is certainly new and it serves to distance us and create this vague but familiar dream-like sequence.

As for the cast, they really did bring out the profound message of this play to life despite some misses along the way. A big congratulations goes to Brendon Fernandez for his impeccable portrayal of Atticus Finch. His passionate version is a definite delight to watch and while we will not be forgetting Peck's performance anytime soon, I am glad that he has defined Atticus in his own unique style. The consistency in his accent, physicality and energy on stage is much to be admired. However, it is such a waste that he focused on the natural rhythms of speech instead of putting emphasis into his closing statements in the court case for it is in those lines in which Lee's case is made.

Another notable character, Scout Finch (played by Julie Natalia Wee), is to be praised. The sheer energy exuded by Wee to portray the strong-willed yet innocent child is the life of the show as it keeps it buoyant. Her chemistry with Atticus, Jem (played but Jae Leung), Dill (played by Tan Shou Chen wonderfully as he brings out the childlike curiosity of Dill well) is fantastic and a great fun to watch. A powerful scene I would like to point out would be when the townsfolk came to the jailhouse to wreck havoc with Atticus guarding Tom Robinson inside. In the midst of the tussle, Scout recongises Mr. Cunningham who is a farmer and whose son is her classmate as she asks if it were really him. That innocent and juvenile imploration for Cunningham to affirm his identity certainly brought tears to my eyes. It is a stinging reminder of how warped and complicated the world has become and that our children have to live in it and try to make sense of it which they should not have to do so. Once again, a standing ovation to Julie Natalia Wee.

Among the supporting cast, the actors of note are Pravin Saivi as Bob Ewell and Rayann Condy as Mayella Ewell and Stephanie Crawford. Saivi's portrayal as the crude and brutish Bob Ewell is certainly great to watch. His realistic southern accent and daring in his acting certainly bring chills to one's spine as I sat in the audience feeling outraged, disgusted and terrified all at the same time by his racist attitude, violent behaviour and the possibility that Finch's children may be killed. This is in light of the fact that I know what will happen in the end which goes to show the utter magic of theatre and Saivi's acting.

Condy provides an amazing anchor as the coquettish Crawford and the victimised Mayella. Her veracity in playing both characters who are poles apart is indeed impressive. This is especially so in Mayella during the court trial. Her ability to portray the shaken, disturbed and pressured Mayella with such consistency, stability and control is certainly a mark of a good actor. Her presence as Mayella certainly made that scene ever more poignant and sobering.

Additionally, I would like to praise whoever made the casting call to put Saivi as a white man and a fair Fauzie to play Robinson. This ironical and brilliant choice did bring some nervous laughter in the audience as it truly made us to be so consicous of the skin colour of the actors throughout the play which calls to question whether racism is just a matter of black and white or something more.

Finally, I would like to thank Toy Factory not only in staging such a great play but also in highlighting how racism features in Singapore which is often being swept under the carpet. I'm glad to see how Art has such a potent function in society and to see the most creative of minds bring a literary gem to life and to new heights in an exciting way!

Truly, 'courage isn't a man with a knife in his hand' but to speak out and fight against the harsh silence of injustice that pervades society.