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Theatre Review (Singapore): “Pursuant” at Singapore Lyric Opera

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Singapore Lyric Opera, known for their traditional Western operas, takes a turn from the norm and brings forth a modern day musical, Pursuant, running at the Drama Centre from the 31st of May to the 8th of June 2013.

Pursuant tells the tale of a Singapore of the future, where dreaming is banned. Ethan (Windson Liong) will not stand for this, and finds himself with a group of underground dreamers. Together they set forth to find out the reason for the ban on dreams, and what he and his friends can do to allow dreaming again.

The theme of Pursuant is exciting and enticing, and brings forth notions of a dystopian future in a world we don’t recognise as our own. Sadly though, that’s where the excitement ends if you’re part of the mature audience watching the play. Whilst the theme and concept are captivating, the execution is poor and sophomoric, although youngsters might not notice.

Written by director Jonathan Lim, the dialogue is filled with unamusing jokes and humourless lines. On many levels, it seems juvenile. However I have to highlight that I remain unsure of the intended audience for this piece of theatre. Whilst Singapore Lyric Opera says on their website that this production is meant for youngsters and families, many of the people in the audience, on the night I attended, were mature adults.

For an adult audience, Lim, who’s known for his successful and funny “Chestnuts” series of plays, has unfortunately failed to come up with a compelling story to occupy the nearly two-hour run of this play. The theme of a ban on dreaming could’ve brought forth plenty of interesting stories, but in Pursuant, Lim relies on a stuffy and tired story of a group of youngsters pairing with underground dream fighters, who then use childish antics (that also serve as plot points) such as throwing cardboard boxes, cans and plastic pack rings around the police to trap them, and breaking into governmental agencies by absurdly disguising themselves.

Towards the end of the play, the story even turns illogical: When the character known as the Old Man reveals that he is fed up with everyone jumping on board his dream and encourages Ethan to dream his own dream, one is confused as to why the Old Man would ban dreaming if he simply wanted everyone to dream their own dreams instead.

However if this play is intended solely for youngsters, Lim’s writing and story are suitable for that age group.

In between all of this, you have the youngsters of Singapore Lyric Opera performing cheesy dance routines that don’t add anything to the structure or story. Notably though, the kids do have strong vocal abilities, as heard in the many songs they perform.

However, the songs, composed by Chen Zhangyi, lack memorable melodies, and you’d be hard pressed to differentiate one song from another as the melodies all sound too much alike. Often, too, the lyrics don’t even rhyme, which gives the musical performances a jarring and odd quality. At other times, some of the songs are sung in soprano voices such that you can’t even really hear the lyrics properly. Case in point: Mabel Yeo has a pretty and melodious soprano voice, but you can’t tell what she is singing about.

Therein lies the conundrum: is Pursuant a modern musical or is it an opera? In all of Singapore Lyric Opera’s advertising, this production is labelled as a musical. Well, in a musical, soprano singing is generally never used in such abundance for the very reason that one can’t really hear the words when they’re sung at that pitch.

Candice de Rozario is the only one whose soprano voice still carries the enunciation of the words well enough that you can hear the lyrics properly. Windson Liong also sings his songs well, showcasing his smooth, rich vocals. The orchestra is also good, performing the songs with vibrancy and energy.

Stage stalwart Nora Samosir works her best “Aunty” moves and injects some layers into her performance, and if the intended audience is young ones, Samosir’s physical comedy and comedic timing will entertain many.

Pursuant may lack a lot that is pursuant to a good musical if you’re an adult, but if you’re a youngster or going with one, you’ll probably be thrilled by the talent on stage.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.
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