Petty People is a NUS Theatre Studies production put up and devised by the Class of 2017. Held at Yale-NUS Black Box, the hour and a half show was mostly done by the twelve students themselves. Having to work on dramaturgy, hair and make-up to helping out with sets and props, it is an effort to applaud. No surprise that the production sold out, with the incredible amount of ownership and dedication.
Directed by NUS alumnus Thong Pei Qin, the script seems to be a collage of many ideas. Firstly, a dog’s body has been found with its tail wagging relentlessly despite being “dead”. Besides featuring misunderstood intentions in familial relationships and rivalries between friends, audience members will be invited to walk through a mystical zoo of strange animals and moaning spirits.
Though interesting and having plenty of potential, it seemed like the script in itself was trying to do too much. In the end, no single aspect really stood out and everything just seemed to go by in a blur while playing catch up. Perhaps it would have been wiser to pick out prominent themes or aspects and use them as a guiding thread from beginning to end?
Nevertheless, certain actors really played with the text and that earned them loyal engagement from the audience. Being larger than life and pushing intensities in their scenes, Kenneth Chia as Mr Lee and Michael Ng Ming Kai as Robert shared great chemistry. Their comic timing and bouncing energy off each other were on point as well. A special mention to Perry Felix Shen for bringing a breath of fresh air on stage when he led dances with the cast in his dog costume.
Despite not fully understanding what their roles were about in the context of the play, we were intrigued by Jane – a character played by Chang Hui Ling, Cheryl Grace Wee Jia Yi and Nikki Lim Xin Yi. In their abstract and out of this world costumes, they carried a different air about them, compared to the rest of the cast. This fine line of intimidation, juxtaposition and mystery was expressed, though more could have been done in the script or staging to help elevate this.
Aesthetically, it was a complete assault to the senses which proved to be a hit and miss.
We enjoyed the consistent reusing of props throughout the different scenes – the transformation on stage was wonderful to witness. The floor patterns of moving props about and being creative of their use was refreshing. Starting with a minimalist setting also helped the eventual build up of matter in the performance space itself, such as mini balloons conquering floor space.
However, it got a bit tiring with so many colours used for props as well as the costumes towards the end. Instead of helping the action, it was difficult to concentrate on the acting or the multimedia showing on screen, simply because there was so much going on. The stage space seemed so cluttered to the point where some actors could not even maneuver the space well – affecting their performance.
Despite it all, there were certain moments worth remembering from this production and all is not lost. Perhaps, greater things are to come for this cohort of students as they gain further experience through their course of study.
Photographs courtesy of NUS Theatre Studies Class 2017 and Gabriel Lim