In a trap of mixed messages

In a trap of mixed messages
The setting of Square Moon evokes not just a prison cell but also a twisted pleasure palace.

Review: Theatre

SQUARE MOON (R18)

University Cultural Centre Theatre

Last Friday

Playwright and part-time lecturer Wong Souk Yee, co-founder of the socially conscious and now-defunct 1980s theatre group Third Stage, broke her 26-year silence on stage last weekend.

Square Moon is her first play since she and several group members were detained without trial in 1987 for participating in a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government.

It had been a bumpy road for the play about the intrigues in a fictional Homeland Security Department, inspired by the 2008 escape of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari from a Singapore detention centre.

Plans to stage Square Moon by two other arts organisations fell through before Wong and Third Stage co-founder Chng Suan Tze decided to produce it themselves.

Unfortunately, the resulting two-hour production, redolent with S&M and Catholic imagery of guards in leather bondage gear and prisoners in martyr-like white robes, is a bloated, unfocused affair that could have done with a dramaturg or a director more in sync with the playwright's intentions.

Wong's previous plays were known for their straight-up social messages. They include Esperanza (1986), about a Filipina domestic helper abused by her Singapore employer.

In comparison, Square Moon director Peter Sau, himself an actor, has an arch, campy style that works well in more playful and free-wheeling dramas, such as the recent happiness-themed Lift by TheatreWorks, which he helped devise.

The result is a strained, awkward marriage. Square Moon's characters - bungling and cruel intelligence officers, duplicitous rulers and hapless detainees - are too one-dimensional for effective political satire.

The reflective jet black walls and floor of the set, criss-crossed with white lines, evoke not just a prison cell but also a twisted pleasure palace for those who love their whips and chains.

This dark sexual underbelly seems to evoke an entirely different play. Not enough intellectual rigour is devoted to fleshing out Wong's Kafkaesque theme of how detention without trial steamrolls individual liberties.

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