Transitions II (2013), Review

2 minutes read
25 January 2013, 8:00pm

First Impression

The Intan at 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, home of collector and curator Alvin Yapp, makes for an immediately welcoming and intimate theatre space. Every home naturally holds its own story, but this one in particular seems to be bursting to tell of the numerous tales contained within its walls, its range of intricate artefacts a stunning visual reminder of The Intan's dual nature as home and museum.

Conceived, written, and performed entirely by a group of nine TPJC graduates, the work introduces the audience to a recently reunited pair of siblings, an imperious, no-nonsense matriarch, and a hapless salesman trying to close a deal, amongst other characters. Of course, woven into the script are the constant reminders that this is ultimately about Peranakan history and culture so there is no shortage of references to domestic pride, generous hospitality, excellent cuisine and the occasional traditional superstition. Aptly enough, the ancestral altar is the starting point of the play, becoming the portal through which we step back into history: two younger members of the family play with hand puppets, re-enacting the origin story of the Peranakan people. In a simple stroke of ingenuity, the sail of their boat then becomes the screen for a short shadow puppetry scene, underscored by one of the cast members singing an improvised melody. The play here is at its most poetic, before we are brought back to the present world with the re-entry of Ah Noi, domestic helper extraordinaire - a world where houses must be immaculate, gender roles clearly defined (it's a slippery slope if men show any sign of domesticity: "First you want to cook, then you want to clean; what next, you want to wear kebaya?!"), and cuisine is exquisitely and lovingly prepared.

Transitions II is definitely one of the more successful site-specific pieces I have had the privilege of watching in Singapore. It did not make the common mistake of inadvertently turning the space into a gallery, with the audience's experience closer to observing installation art on display rather than watching a story inextricably linked to its physical surroundings. The beauty of site-specificity is that this play could not have achieved the same effect outside of The Intan, and in the process, the Intan is also simultaneously transformed by housing this play - the audience gets to see the space in a new light, and to physically be a part of a living heritage space.