Theatre Highlights of 2017 (in no particular order):
1) Harap by Teater Ekamatra (written by Haresh Sharma , translated by Zulfadli Rashid )
A sensitive Malay-language translation of 'Hope' was given wistful, poetic treatment by director Fared Jainal, who also gave us one of the most memorable stage images this year: characters tenderly sculpting dolls of clay while on a screen behind them we see the cold, pulsing indifference of the stars.
2) Without Reason by Sim Yan Ying (M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival)
I thought I'd know how an inter-racial love story set in Singapore would play out, but somehow this young playwright managed to cut deep enough to the point where the bone shows through, though not without also gifting us with a scene of daydreamy delight: the lovers trying to translate their respective Chinese/Malay songs for the other.
3) Tango by Joel Tan (Pangdemonium)
One can quibble with the staging--cool grey cliffs instead of warm cushioned interiors--but there is no denying that this is urgent, vital, full-throated Queer Theatre 2.0, one which says: we're here, we're queer, and we'd better get used to addressing the (class & racial) Others in our ranks.
4) Almost by Myra Loke
Part of a triple-bill called Three by [email protected], this wordless performance, where an increasingly frantic Joshua Lim tries to bring his catatonic partner Yuyang Ellison Tan back to life, was affecting in the manner of great wordless performances: stripped of words, some bodies are capable only of truth.
5) Germinal by Halory Goerger, Antoine Defoort (SIFA)
Of course it's clever, oh-so-clever in fact, with its postmodern prankishness, its philosophical investigations into the origins of consciousness, its kindergarten-to-postgrad ontological categories, its debts to the vocabulary of intricate online world-building, but who knew that the cleverness was a front for something so movingly vulnerable?
6) Trojan Women by Keng Sen Ong and the National Theatre of Korea (SIFA)
This one, on the other hand, wore its vulnerability like an armour; the grief of the women became something like the war it was supposed to lament, and how awed and cowed I was to witness the raw keening and wailing of pansori singers, advancing to that edge where going a notch further would mean damaging their voices forever.
7) Vegetative State by Manuela Infante (SIFA)
What is the Being (or sentience, or consciousness) of a plant is the central question in the play, and we get an actor, Marcela Salinas, narrating a murder-mystery of how a tree led to the death of a motorcyclist...though the highlight was a raging segment about ecological collapse and the sovereignty of forests, which for me demonstrated that thrilling left-wing Latin American gift for combining manifesto and poetry. flower girl outfits of tulle
8 ) The Vault: Dialects & Dialectics, directed by Nelson Chia (Nine Years Theatre)
Two classic monologues by Kuo Pao Kun, translated into Cantonese and Teochew, which to me was a sombre yet affectionate response to the late director's requiem for dialects in 'Mama Looking for Her Cat'.
9) The Vault: Dancing the Good, The Bad & The Ugly by Lee Mun Wai
"Is one solution to not performing a banned text then to dance it?", the work seems to ask, and we get a thing of grotesque beauty--a performance not just of Elangovan's banned texts, but of censorship itself, of a body that knows it cannot be free and therefore contorts itself against imagined barriers and limits in a delirium of self-abuse.
10) Sanctuary by Haresh Sharma & Suguru Yamamoto (The Necessary Stage & Hanchu-Yuei)
The play is a kooky, self-contradicting confection--online avatars are played by real bodies in real space, assuming characters such as an android janitor and a blind ukulele-playing girl--but its hopscotching across media surfaces masks deeper questions on whether human life can be reduced to--or preserved as--a collection of data.
Stuff that I watched overseas that I loved too: shelf's 'GHOSTS-COMPOSITION/IBSEN' directed by Yasuhito Yano at the Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting, 'Hot Brown Honey' at the Ozasia Festival in Adelaide, 'Private Conversation: A Farewell to Love of Siam' by Worworsor Witwisit Hiranyawongkul at the Freeform Festival and 'Hertha Berlin' by Kwin Bhichitkul at the Bangkok Theatre Festival.
Some observations: there are some exciting emerging playwrights who are not rushing into production but spending necessary time developing their works; there are also young theatre-makers whose starting point is not necessarily text but movement and dramaturgy; Centre 42 has replaced the Substation in developing the New Fringe (archival, post-dramatic, dialect revivalist works); and I will really really miss Keng Sen's curation of SIFA.