Roundtable Discussion is where we sit down and talk about whatever we’re reviewing, highlighting what we liked and any flaws that could have been improved . In this edition, we’ll be talking about Sight Lines Production’s latest play ‘Boom’. We’ve already done quite bit of coverage on this production, here and here, but read on to find out our post-show impressions.
Ben: I was particularly struck by the set’s design. On first glance it’s just a grey wall, but then it hits you that there’s a subtle resemblance to a giant tombstone. The secret doors and windows hidden by the grey reflective surface allow for clever set variations without too much movement on stage, and for me it’s pretty refreshing to see such a minimalistic yet effective approach. But what won me over was the location of the Ministry of Land office on the upper level of the wall – when the stage went dark and suddenly the white fluorescent lights came on to reveal the office, I was blown away. It was a vindication of how the space on stage was maximised.
Hariz: Definitely, one of Boom‘s strongest points is one that hits you immediately, before the show even starts. The set is nothing short of genius, as it maximises the stage of the DBS Arts Centre and has the characters occupy a space not accessed by many actors thus far – the top of the stage. As the play went on I realised how effective the set was, in ensuring the quick and seamless transition from scene to scene. I did however, have an issue with it. Whenever the actors were delivering lines from the top ‘floor’ of the set their voices became muffled and hard to hear. Be it the characters from the Ministry of Land or the corpse, their voiced all failed to travel. Instead they were blocked by the transparent walls of the set. We were all fortunate enough to be sitting near the front, but what about those at the back?
Ben: It’s funny that you didn’t like the muffling and echoing of the actors’ voices during the office scenes, because for me it gave a sense of perspective. While ordinary lives are led and conversations held on the first floor, on the second floor these are supposedly important meetings that will affect the country yet ordinary citizens will never hear, so in that sense I felt like I was eavesdropping on Jeremiah’s conversation with his boss when I really shouldn’t be doing so.
Yufeng: For me, one of Boom‘s triumphs is its cast. Played by the riveting Fanny Kee, the character of Mother for me was striking and poignant. I thought Fanny’s performance managed to touch a raw nerve amongst the audience while not being over-the-top. From naive reminiscence to a simmering rage, from loving tenderness to heart-wrenching despair, Fanny navigates Mother’s emotional turmoil astutely, capturing the struggle to reconcile her attachment to the past and her beloved son’s repudiation of it.
Hariz: Great cast indeed. All the actors played their roles with the necessary conviction Boom requires, since it’s a very dialogue-driven play. To me, Erwin Shah Ismail’s performance as Jeremiah was near-perfection. Just like what was said about Fanny, I thought he too demonstrated masterful control over the role. Every frustrated outburst or contemplative gaze is deliberate, as is every bodily twitch or snarky comment that Erwin supplies. But the best thing Erwin never overdoes his performance, its always purposeful and carefully thought out. It really shows in his acting.
Ben: The one problem I had with some of the cast members was the apparent struggle between speaking fluent English and authentic Singlish. There were times when a slang was slipped in, accidental or not, (most evidently in Fanny’s scenes) which proved to be jarring, especially when this was supposed to be a truly Singaporean play at heart. Also, I thought that it was a shame the supporting cast of Amanda Tee and Benjamin Kheng, while solid in their various roles, was not able to offer more variations in their acting. In particular, Amanda’s portrayals of a younger Mother, and Mother’s neighbour in present time, felt very similar which was a bit unfortunate. But I guess this can be attributed to the fact that the actress was given the difficult task of toying with the heartland Singlish accent by herself.
Also, I didn’t really like how the play was concluded in the final scene with Fanny. I understand the motivations behind the script, but I felt that the monologue had by then become too draggy. Perhaps it was because I could not really connect with the words, and as a result there were a few moments when I did not feel engaged. Fortunately enough, Fanny’s emotional acting was able to carry the act to its final conclusion. Having Fanny return to her role was definitely a plus factor for this year’s iteration of Boom.
Yufeng: Grappling with his humble background and his lofty dreams, I thought Andrew Lua put in a great shift as Tan Tiong Boon. While, as Ben mentions, Singlish and dialect interjections may not have worked for a number of characters, I thought Andrew did a great job balancing the brashness of his working class upbringing and the sophistication that education and modernity has brought him and the contrast between his use of Singlish and proper English are less jarring and seem natural even. On top of this, Andrew’s re-enactments of Boon’s childhood was spot-on. The scene where he ran around the stage pretending to be Superman, screaming “Kryptonite!” as his mother gave chase, evoked perfectly the wide-eyed innocence that he tragically loses later and still burns brightly in my mind’s eye.
Hariz: The most impactful aspect of Boom, for me, was how they dealt with the Surreal. Director Derrick Chew mentioned in his interview that he was gunning for a more surrealistic feel, through the use of stage magic, and he did not disappoint at all. Elements of the stage coalesced to create the dreamlike aspects of Boom, and as a result the distinction between what was fantasy and reality was very clear. These scenes turned out to be their best ones. During the flashback scenes, the warm, orange glow of the lights underscored the hopeful nostalgia that actors Benjamin and Amanda delivered through their lines. The portrayal of the strange ‘talking’ corpse was clearly well thought out as well, with the dim green lighting and booming, echoing voice being heard from the top corner of the stage, almost hauntingly so. The costumes, lighting, sound – it all made the fantastic elements not only believable, but gave them the most meaning as well.
Ben: So out of five stars, what’s your verdict?
Boom runs till 8th July at the DBS Arts Centre, Home of SRT. Tickets available from Sistic.