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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘The Secret Theatre Project’

The Secret Theatre Project is known for staging theatrical experiences kept secret until you arrive on the day, password in hand. In Singapore, the project, which ran from May 4 to June 10 2018, was a theatrical version of an excerpt of the 1996 George Clooney movie From Dusk Till Dawn that played out across two side-by-side nightclubs, Lulu’s Lounge and Bang Bang (both located within the Pan Pacific Hotel’s grounds).

On press night (May 3), we first entered Lulu’s, where about a dozen actors mingled with participants, teasing us with anticipation. Then, Queen Pussy (Robert Nairne) appeared amongst some scantily-clad dancers, followed by an energetic dance number by Santanico Pandemonium (Jessica Alonso) who had a bit of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ when her top accidentally rose up during her number.

I was beginning to wonder if this whole project consisted more of dances than of actual theatre, when all of a sudden three men appeared in the bar and the acting portion of the evening begun. And unfortunately this is where the excitement of this unique event started to drain.

As much as From Dusk Till Dawn worked on screen, it does not work at all in a bar. First, the dialogue was hard to hear, as patrons were spread across the lounge, and whilst a cinema big screen requires attention, the same lines when delivered in a somewhat noisy bar lose all impact and interest.

Also, there was almost no interaction with the audience, aside from getting some patrons to throw things like balls of holy water and push crucifixes onto the ‘vampires’ – which went astray as most of the patrons were drunk and unruly by this stage and instead splashing water on each other, and on us!

On top of that, we were needlessly ushered from one bar to the other, over and over. Despite this attempt to create suspense or participation, the constant moving from here to there added absolutely nothing to the experience or story. There are countless experiences in Singapore’s theatre scene that have used the same method of making audiences move about, with far better intention and results.

The whole night was overdrawn, and went on for too long, especially given the boring narrative, the absence of interactivity, the incessant moving between the two bars, the rowdy and drunk crowd, and the lack of any actual ‘theatre’.

In addition, a lot of the dialogue from host Queen Pussy was made up of run-of-the-mill and infantile sex innuendos that would titillate only teenagers or immature drunk people. I highly doubt anyone sober and over the age of 21 would have found any humour in these lines, which seemed better placed in a frat party.

If you’re used to proper theatre, where patrons practise the requisite theatrical etiquette, where every direction and audience movement has purpose, where the narrative and dialogue can be easily heard and followed, where, if the show is interactive, audiences are easily engaged and drawn into the story, and where drunken behaviour is frowned upon – then you wouldn’t have enjoyed the Secret Theatre Project at all, especially given how pricey the tickets were in Singapore (S$150 entrance fee, without drinks or food).

However, if you just wanted to heighten your regular bar or clubbing experience, then perhaps this would have captivated you, although the high price and unwarranted hype are still points to consider.

It’s just a shame that the Secret Theatre Project is misleading, as it isn’t genuine theatre at all.

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

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

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