Writer: Jonathan Chan
Photos by: Zhou Shuo, Kok Pun & Kelvin Anggara
It was with anticipation as I walked across the road from Engin, squished across the central divider wet from the recent rain, and trotted up to UCC. It was the opening night of the long-awaited Hallplay: Absurd Person Singular. Long-awaited for me as it was the first time I was ever properly watching a KE Hallplay! With me I had a bunch of friends both KEVIIan and not, including Yu Kit, the producer from last year’s hugely successful Pygmalion.
Nicholas (Producer) and Peng Keong (Front of House IC / Ticketing Head) were there to greet us with their members as we entered the lobby of UCC. I collected a Programme Booklet from Kelvin (Publicity Head) and his members and chatted with them, most of whom I knew personally, while Nick swapped stories about the production with his predecessor.
Before long though, a crowd of KEVIIans swept into the lobby, presumably having dropped off from the same Bus A2, kicking the kiasu part of our characters into gear and prompting us to scurry into the theatre brandishing our precious tickets at the UCC ushers, securing good seats in the lower stalls at 7.10 pm.
We beheld the projection of the silhouettes of Christmas trees on the curtains, an ingenious collaboration, no doubt, between the Tech Crew and some bright spark in the décor teams, while “The 12 Days of Christmas” played soothingly over the speakers. The audience filled up quickly, chatting, laughing, reading brochures, and anticipating a great performance. The XQRJ members turned up in a sea of pink T-shirts, supporting their Hallplay counterparts in a sporting display of solidarity. Many faces from the Hallplays of past years could be seen in the crowd, including Bridget and Nicholas who played leading roles in Pygmalion, and Jia Yan from Till We Have Faces (2008).
Before long, Prof Ho, the RFs and other VIPs attending the play had taken their seats and on the dot of 7.35 pm, the lights dimmed, the curtains swept open and the audience’s volume dropped. The spotlights snapped on to reveal Sharifah (Jane Hopcroft) in fluffy slippers feverishly polishing the prop furniture, against the backdrop of a patterned yellow wall, a refrigerator with a dozen pictures stuck to it, and a washing machine (which had once famously made the acquaintance of the floorball team when one of our balls rolled into the machine during training and could not be found for some time), among others. The details of the set were exquisite, lovingly crafted by the Set Décor team, with the different plates in the display cabinet, the heart on the side of the dustbin… A promising sign of the quality of the play that was to come.
And so off we swung into the world of Absurd Person Singular. By the third minute of the production, we were in peals of laughter as Praveen (Sidney Hopcroft) manipulated the fly-spray bottle clumsily, to the mounting horror of the audience who could tell what was coming, and proceeded to blind himself quite convincingly. We could almost feel the rain sleeting through the door, and thought we could almost smell the gin on Jing Wen (Ronald Brewster-Wright)’s pants, such was the fuss he made over them. Asher (Geoffrey Jackson) was utterly rougish as he went on about invisible peanuts before being talked off the stage by Lisa (Eva Jackson), who was displaying a realistic cross between depression and schizophrenia, as perceived by this medical student, while Deborah (Marion Brewster-Wright) looked elegant even while gushing about how the furniture was “Absoluuuutely deliiightful”.
The actors moved with delightful coordination and confidence, which, together with the clever style of the play which eliminated the need for scene changes, ensuring that the laughs came non-stop. If this placed any stress on the actors, we certainly could not tell so. We wondered at the quality of the set, which withstood the actors’ sometimes less-than-gentle handling, with Sharifah’s bolting through the door semi-rainproofed and slamming it behind her to escape an incoming guest coming to mind. That everything held together was a testament to the skill of Kar Yee (Set Builder Head) and gang.
All too soon, though, Act 1 was over. Intermission came and went, and back we were in our seats hungry for more.
Act 2 was, quite literally, highly charged. We were transported to the drab interior of the Jacksons’ kitchen, with Lisa sprawled on the table singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” hauntingly, looking dazed and disheveled, not unlike the appearance of some of my classmates who dwell in the KE study room, dreaming of the next holiday while all stoned from studying for the next exam.
Now the Tech Crew came into their own, with their masterful use of sound effects managing to paint an image of a canine similar to the proverbial Hound of the Baskervilles waiting outside the kitchen to tear its unfortunate occupants apart should anyone attempt to escape. And once again, the sturdiness of the sets were put to the test when Lisa had to be wrestled into her chair more than once, punctuated by her attempts to commit suicide through every conceivable means possible (being, after all, trapped in a rather lethal kitchen).
Not forgetting, of course, the immortal line “We are all looking for Ronnie’s nut”, uttered by Deborah, the meaning of which could be heard being explained to the more innocent of the audience by more worldly neighbours. Shortly after this, Jing Wen, Deborah and the Tech Crew proceeded to combine magnificently to produce the memorable electrocution scene which drew the longest laughs of the night from the audience.
Once again, the skills of the two sets departments were evident in Act 3, with the plain Jacksons’ kitchen being replaced with the luxurious interior of the Brewster-Wrights’ home, complete with velvety chairs, a bitter Asher, a very inebriated Deborah and a low, low ambient temperature reflective of the state of the marriage between the house’s occupants. The production ran out to its hilarious conclusion, with Jing Wen ending with standing in a corner with an apple under his chin, a spoon in his mouth with an pear balanced on it, looking singularly absurd and markedly unhappy.
Curtain call, as always, was magnificent, as the full cast and crew came on stage to receive the audience’s thanks. Jing Wen leapt into Deborah’s arms, Kai Lin (Costumes Head) gave a happy little jump, the Set Décor team endearingly painted each other’s ears, the CAD team waved their banner, the Marketing guys brandished their phones and we were all flashed by the Tech Crew. Finally, Adrian and Pearly (Production Managers), Collin and Lian Sheng (Directors) and Nicholas and Yufang (Producers) came out to the biggest applause of all, just reward at having helmed the production over many grueling months. And the curtains closed, the cast and crew waved, and Hallplay for this year was over.
Outside, the audience waited for their friends involved in the production to emerge from backstage, and once they did, backslaps and hugs abounded as congratulations on a play well done were exchanged, as indeed it was. The praise was effusive.
“I think it was great… It was fresh … seeing so many new faces this year”, said Ming Zhou. “I thought it was good… The second act was the best,” added Yu Kit, having watched her first hallplay stress-free. Ginny praised the cast, saying “Deborah was particularly outstanding”
Meanwhile, the XQRJ members were not short on their praise on the play either, with Gavin saying “I think it was quite entertaining!” Neither were the largest critics of the night – the graduated seniors formerly from the JCRC. Said Viknesh, Publications Secretary 06/07 and Culture Secretary 05/06, “I thought the concept was very ambitious… It was unique and interesting!”
What a night it was for us audience, and what a stunning culmination of over half a year’s work for the members of the Hallplay. As flowers were given and happily received by the ecstatic Hallplay members and photos were snapped, those of us who had been there before could not help but wish we were once again part of such productions. Many congratulations to the Hallplay team, your hard work and commitment has produced an awesome performance, and I for one can’t wait to watch (or take part in) the next one!