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.

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