As I enter the space, the actors move around the stage. At first I wonder whether they are already in character or not. Soon, I notice someone acknowledging an audience member. As the hall fills and eventually becomes full, the lights go out and the actors line up. They make announcements, thank the sponsors and the show starts. In this production, the actors take turns as narrators setting the scene. He or she describes the space, where the doors are and where we are.
The interesting part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival’s presentation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is on many levels. For one, it’s a translated work into Mandarin with surtitles. I don’t read or speak Mandarin but enjoy theatre regardless of language. On another level, the stage is sparse and the actors themselves move the props around in between scenes. It’s very minimal but presents enough objects on stage to create the mood.
For the actual acting, hearing the dialogue being spoken in Mandarin is fascinating. Just like watching a foreign film, you do a balancing act of reading the translation and catching the nuances of the acting. Your mind does a composite of the translated words and the action on the stage. Part of the magic in this piece is how Nine Years Theatre manages to bring you into the piece being a part of the realism. There is the realism in the acting, the hyper realism in the exaggeration of the emotions and the sparse impressionistic nature of the set.
The story, now retold in a different language, with a tango musical backdrop brings attention how society often struggles with the same issues in different eras. The issues are timeless and the core of the problems never disappear, perhaps. In the end, sitting through the post-show discussion, there is a mention of the importance of ‘truth’ and how it is as an important value. In the end, the thoughts and questions we have after a piece leaves the space is all we have.
And, by then - theatre has done its job.
- Az Samad, 10 January 2014
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