The Second Breakfast Company staged Goh Poh Seng’s The Moon is Less Bright from May 31 to June 3 2018 at the Drama Centre Blackbox.
In this 1964 play, Goh explored life in a farm on the outskirts of Singapore, where two families with differences in class, wealth, backgrounds, lifestyles, and opinions collide. Adding to the drama, it’s set just before the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War.
The set by Mark Cheong was minimalistic but effective in making the small black-box space convert seamlessly from the interiors of a farm house to the surrounding grounds. Director Adeeb Fazah employed interesting choices in bringing out the characters’ personalities, as in a scene where the country wife Poh Suan (Miriam Cheong) pounds her pestle hard enough into the mortar to keep the unwarranted advice of town wife Chee Hoon (Qotn Van.s.y) from reaching her ears easily.
The acting was good. Cheong and Cheryl Tan (who played town niece Choo Leng) stood out with their natural and multi-layered acting. A weak spot was Van.s.y, who overacted for most of her time on stage, and sported an over-the-top affected accent that was unnatural and jarring.
Another glaring weakness of this production, unfortunately, was the play itself. When Goh penned this during the infancy of the Singapore theatre scene, it might’ve been acceptable to audiences hungry for local writing to see farmers spewing connotative and flowery language at each other. Today however, when Singapore theatre has grown by leaps and bounds, this type of language comes across as pretentious and a complete misfit.
The audience seemed to have felt the same when in one scene, after going on and on in the most eloquent of language about the situation, one of the farmer boys turned around and proclaimed his love for Choo Leng. The audience burst out in laughter, not because it was funny that the boy had feelings for the girl (there was a build-up to this anyway) but rather because the oft-heard and modernish “I love you” felt totally out of place in the Shakespeare-sounding chunk of dialogue that preceded it.
Also out of place was how Choo Leng, an intelligent and confident girl with strong opinions, suddenly turned to one of the farm boys and said to him that she wanted to learn and wanted him to teach her, seemingly without any impetus.
This critic felt that Goh’s script is extremely outdated. His particular way of representing the themes of class and war is largely irrelevant today, and the plot is neither interesting nor motivating. And that’s a pity because the acting, the directing, the costumes, the set, and other technical aspects of this production deserved to be in a much better story.