The latest staging of Off Centre harks back to the original.
The Necessary Stage
7 February 2019
7–17 February 2019
Much ink has been spilled on Haresh Sharma’s Off Centre ever since its first staging in 1993. The reviews have two common threads: the play being on-target about mental health issues, and the tragedy of the play still being pertinent after so many years.
To add, it is also a sophisticated play which touches on issues of different economic backgrounds, societal expectations, Singapore’s competitive school system, and national service, without being tedious. Furthermore, the several instances in which Vinod or Saloma questioning the audience directly might be a little shocking for audiences back then, who are probably used to having the fourth wall in place.
All of that is brought to the fore in the latest staging by The Necessary Stage, as director Alvin Tan stays true to the original staging, except for having a slightly more elaborate set by Wong Chee Wai.
Abdulattif Abdullah (Vinod) and Sakinah Dollah (Saloma) reprise their roles to much aplomb. Apart from the difficulty of embodying behavioural ticks brought on by severe depression and schizophrenia respectively, they have to constantly toggle between being in character and stepping out to narrate or address the audience. The ease at which both actors achieve this seem to signify that their characters are not too far from us.
Apart from their technical flair, both actors handle the emotional scenes with a great deal of sensitivity, giving the seemingly simple words much nuance.
While I would have liked for the play to be updated in terms of references and staging, I acknowledge the merits of being faithful to the original staging to mark the show’s anniversary and being a reference for students taking their O and N level exams.
Undoubtedly, most of us would feel uncomfortable about how relevant the play still is, but what is more troubling for me is that it is not as hard-hitting for the modern audience as it probably was for our counterparts in 1993.
With a more theatrically sophisticated audience, the direct questioning seems a little crude. Furthermore, both Adulattif and Sakinah seem to direct them at a general direction rather than directly at a particular audience member. Thus, as Saloma pleads with the audience at the end, one is filled with dread that nothing is going to change.
Being timeless or evergreen is a compliment when describing most plays, but it is certainly not so for this one. One hopes that the play’s concerns will be deemed as dated and irrelevant by the time a theatre company considers another restaging.
“Off Centre is still spot on” by Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times Life!
“Off Centre” by Jocelyn Chng, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews
“[Review] Off Centre overwhelmed by nostalgia” by Sam Kee, ArtsRepublic.sg
“Review: Off Centre (2019) by The Necessary Stage” by Bak Chor Mee Boy