Actor, Forty <<演员四十>>
The Necessary Stage
Commissioned for Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts 2017
5 February 2017, 3 p.m.
Esplanade Theatre Studio
3–6 February 2017
What could be more narcissistic than staging a solo show about one’s life and career? At best, it is an extravagant CV. At worst, it is a navel-gazing alternation between woe-is-me and look-at-me.
To avoid that trap, playwright Haresh Sharma creates a character which can be described as a version of Yeo Yann Yann in a nearby possible world. For sentimental readers, Yeo plays a character that could have very well been her, had the stars aligned a wee bit differently.
This blend of fact and fiction is not merely a device to avoid criticisms of vanity, but it also allows inter-textual possibilities that capture a slice of the local and regional theatre, television, and movie industries of the ’80s and ’90s. To ground the play in the reality of the character, Sharma ensures that some of these references also reflect the main difficulty of the character dealing with the difficulties of having a child at 40, and how best to balance between motherhood and her acting career.
As such, we have a deliciously complex play that is shot through with meta-theatricality. One could spend hours teasing out the dynamics of life imitating art and vice versa within the reality of the play, and the references to the different roles that we play in various aspects of our lives.
Yet, at another angle, the show is Yeo’s performance CV. Every second of the show is solid proof that, given some time, there is absolutely nothing that she cannot do. Her energy and flexibility disguises her age, while her virtuosity celebrates decades of hard work and experience.
She seamlessly transits from a comical to a poignant moment as if she were casually throwing on a scarf. With Sharma’s writing and Alvin Tan’s direction being quite relentless in this aspect, a lesser actor—or any other actor for that matter—might end up tying a noose with that scarf. She also manages to breeze through a whole range of characters, and display a sense of ease with a whole spectrum of acting styles.
Underlying all these is a keen sensitivity which is also manifested in the way she handles Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin (both standard and a colloquial way of speaking that is unique to Malaysians), and English. At this juncture, it is important to acknowledge Quah Sy Ren’s robust translations as we are predominantly hearing his words throughout the show.
In the press conference scenes which bookend the show, Yeo’s character teasingly admonishes the press for being nosey about her personal life, but requests them to give the movie as much coverage and as many positive reviews as they can. Usually, I will bristle at such blatancy, but Yeo and The Necessary Stage (TNS) have stripped me of any reason to do so.
Indeed, Actor Forty is a splendid celebration of Yeo’s career and TNS’ 30th anniversary. The company now finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to match this show for the rest of their 2017 season. But of all problems that one could have, this is one that is most welcomed.
“Theatre review: Actor, Forty affectionately welcome Yeo Yann Yann back to local stage after hiatus” by Adeline Chia, The Straits Times Life!
“《演员四十》写给新加坡剧场的一封告白” by 邹文森, Lianhe Zaobao
“Nobody will write a review for you” by Jocelyn Chng, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews
“一人分饰多文化的困惑 | REVIEW: ACTOR, FORTY” by Wong Chee Meng (黄子明), Theatrex Asia
“Actor, Forty” by Naeem Kapadia, Crystalwords
“[Review] Huayi Festival 2017: Actor, Forty by The Necessary Stage” by Nigel Choo, Bakchormeeboy.com