… birth/life/mission/leadership/violent dictatorship/hypocrisy of the elite/rebellion/fear and suffering/emergence of brave new thought/acts and ways of being/incarceration/torture/death/renewal and hope.And if that seems like a lot, it is.
These themes are explored by way of character archetypes. We are presented with a rebel/idealist, a mother/protector, a authority/Snake/Pontius Pilate figure, and even a Cleopatra/Empress Dowager figure (whose other elements I had difficulty pinning down). With such archetypes in play on stage the temptation is to see Versus as being solely about the rise and fall of empires and the never-ending struggle between freedom and power. There are some moments when it is explicitly that: for example, in one scene there is an explicit poke at the upcoming elections in Singapore featuring some not-so-subtle vote buying by the authority/Snake/Pontius Pilate figure; in another, the rebel/idealist is tortured by the same authority/Snake/Pontius Pilate figure and asked to denounce his homosexual lover and love. But the lines that Michelle Tan’s text keeps returning to again and again have nothing to do with the struggle for or against power:
“Your sorrow isn’t unique.”Instead, they indicate that the truly endless human struggle is with and within our own selves: between our very real sense of despair and capacity for hope. Man versus himself. A never-ending existential crisis played out on the canvas of existence and interrupted (as the text itself points out at one point) only by death.
“That doesn’t make it any less heavy to bear.”
“Some days are harder than others.”were able to hit me as a listener in the core of my being because it felt like they were being spoken from the actors’ own cores. The cast really has to be credited for the massive effort they put into the work and the very impressive performance that they delivered. Special mention should also be made of Edith Podesta, who was particularly touching, funny, believable and magnificent in her role as the flighty schizophrenic/woman/bird-brained pterodactyl archetype.
“All days come to an end.”
Of all the cast it was she who inhabited the unnatural and rather demented space of the production with the most ease and effortlessness. As a result it was impossible to tear one’s eyes off her performance.
But, even as I registered the strength of the performances and Cake’s “unique” visual style, a part of me still found it impossible to be swept away by the production and the emotions it generated. Instead, that part of me registered how I felt that I was being repeatedly bludgeoned with the same ideas, the same words, and the same imagery over and over again (something possibly not helped when this atheist audience member found herself confronted repeatedly by liberal helpings of Christian imagery and language - so much so that at one point an actual Christ figure is wheeled out on a scaffolding, strung up to die and has her side pierced in a direct re-enactment of Longinus piercing Christ’s side with his spear. Even with my relatively high tolerance for allusions to Christianity in English literature, this seemed a little heavy-handed). And knowing, too, that the production sought to repeatedly hit me to my core with its discovered truths and wisdoms, my comment to my companion after was that at some point any relationship that consists of one party being persistently hit by another could (and possibly should) be considered abusive.
Conceived & Directed by: Natalie Hennedige
Story: Natalie Hennedige, Michelle Tan
Text: Michelle Tan
Scenic & Prop Designer: neontights
Sound Designer: Philip Tan
Projection Designer: Brian Gothon Tan
Costume & Visual Designer: David Lee
Lighting Designer: Any Lim
Mural Designer: Godwin Koay
Thomas Pang, Andrea Ang, Edith Podesta, Julius Foo, Goh Guat Kian, Rizman Putra, Kenneth Tan, Kow Xiao Jun, Bib Mockram, Alexandre Thio, Sukania Venugopal