Everything But The Brain (2013), Review

3 minutes read
Everything But The Brain
10 August 2013, 8:00pm
3.0 out of 5


Einstein on the Train

This production falls short of realizing the play’s full potential.

With a script as solid and thoughtfully wrought as Jean Tay’s Everything But The Brain, it's hard to go too far wrong. As a series of strokes slowly reduce her father from academic brilliance to embarrassing incontinence, middle-aged Physics teacher Elaine embarks on a plan to slow down time according to the theory of relativity, in order to save him from or at least delay his inevitable death. (This is a spoiler given to us right at the beginning of the play: he does die.) The play then unfolds as a countdown to this end point, interspersed with flashbacks of their lives – moments in this father-daughter relationship that are poignant, heartfelt, and all too real. 

Sight Line’s rendition of Brain, though fairly competent, does not exactly breathe new life into a familiar play. It gets off, quite literally, to a running start: Elaine jogs on the spot as a chorus of three bears cavort around her, perhaps a physical illustration of her later theoretical attempt to reach that impossible speed of light and beat time at its own game. However, as the play progresses, there is the sense that the actors are running out of options as to where to be and what to do. As the piece lends itself to a certain playfulness and intimacy, I wonder if it would have been better served in a more flexible theatre venue. The set and projection design seemed to be going in that direction – bare bones and minimal, a stark contrast to Boom! – almost in an attempt to give the space more of a black box quality. Unfortunately, the rigidity of the proscenium renders this futile, and results in several scenes coming across as rather static and flat. The choice to create more depth by introducing moments where the chorus (and occasionally, Elaine) ventures behind the fringed back curtain of the set is a well-intentioned one, but is not altogether effective as most of the action ends up obscured by the black fringe and inadequate lighting. 

The chorus of the three vibrantly clothed bears (Faizal Abdullah, Amanda Tee, and Cassandra Spykerman) gave the play its main source of humour and levity, with all three having excellent comic timing and wonderful pacing as an ensemble. Koh’s charisma made Elaine the highly likeable and sympathetic character she needed to be, and I rooted for her throughout; from her awkward candour with the handsome Dr Chen (Edward Choy) to her struggle to care for her ailing father, she is the physics teacher we all wished we had, and the unconventional fairytale princess we all want to save.

Darren Ng’s scoring of the show once again did not disappoint. Sounds were handled with great sensitivity to the rhythm and pacing of the play, and his main recurring refrain had a quality that was fittingly whimsical and reflective at the same time. From unobtrusively setting the mood to designating space/time changes, the sound design was an integral and effective part of the greater whole. 

Everything But The Brain is a strong text that demands a directorial vision of equal strength and clarity, and here this production falls short of realizing the play’s full potential. (Though admittedly, considering the previous productions that have gone before, it does have big shoes to fill). This version of Brain felt a little too safe and too literal in its interpretation of the text, resulting in a vessel that constrained and diminished the emotional range and depth of Tay’s characters. Nevertheless, it’s not everyday that we get to hear the laws of physics expounded to us in such understandable, layman terms, and even less often that through them, we gain surprising insight into the temporality of human life. The secret to this play, is that while it is ostensibly about the brain, it contains a massive amount of heart.

productions & stagings