Changing Landscapes: An NUS Play
If one’s lens for viewing the world is flawed and limited, can the truth really be found?
One pleasant Friday evening, October 21st, I packed up my revision notes and headed down to AS3 to watch Changing Landscapes, the first production of the Straight Up Players. If you don’t know, the Straight Up Players are an independent theatrical group consisting of NUS undergrads from many diverse backgrounds. And if there’s one thing I’ve come to know after watching their first production, it’s that they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on.
So, what exactly is Changing Landscapes? Well, as their programme booklet puts: When a friend goes missing and you have a project due in two days, what do you do?
And that’s exactly what the production is about. That, and so much more. It begins simply enough with an introduction to the key characters: Ash (Tan Shao Yun), an anxious History major, Ying (Wong Jin Yi), a down-to-earth Science major and Bel (Lim Shan), your typical social butterfly cum self-proclaimed social media phenomenon. And, of course, the mysterious number 4: Horatio, a Philosophy major with a knack for unwarranted highbrow utterances and, in doing so, mashing the nerves of friend and acquaintance alike. However, what makes Horatio special is that he wasn’t there in the flesh and there were only three actors present throughout.
Behind: Tan Shao Yun as Ash Left: Lim Shan as Bel. Right: Wong Jin Yi as Ying
Horatio is gone. Along with the precious photographs needed for the group to complete their project, leaving behind only his camera which he never does without. So, what do they do? Well, apart from indulging in morbid fantasies amongst other things, they talk. Each of the actors in turn reminisces about a past interaction with Horatio and these are represented in scenes.
In each scene, one of the other actors takes on the mantle of Horatio. And it was fantastic, really. I have to say that it was a great decision on the team’s part and it brought so much more colour and flavour to the character than if they had chosen to implement a fourth actor instead. It was like each actor became a nexus of three forces: the objective voice of Horatio that had to be preserved between scenes, the interacting character’s perception of Horatio and the actor’s own character’s perception of Horatio itself.
To me, this really highlighted the whole idea of subjective perception and how what one sees may not necessarily be what is there. Perhaps we can never know. But maybe, if we put all our perspectives together, stacking them up like Marina Bay Sands, we might at least get somewhere. And really, this is just scratching the surface of Changing Landscapes. Changing Landscapes is a story about people, about relationships, about students in university struggling to meet deadlines. It’s a story about places, about past and present, about transition and change, about slowing down, about believing that you’re right and considering that you’re wrong. It’s about instants where people connect and ages where people don’t. There’s something in Changing Landscapes for every Singaporean.
At the end, having discovered a clue, the group rushes off in search for Horatio and all we’re left with is a video recording of their project presentation from the future, marked with glitches and uncertainty. We never find out if they managed to find him. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps we already do.
The stage of Changing Landscapes
Before concluding, I’d also like to comment that the set was very well-constructed despite the spatial limitations and it really complemented the themes of the production. Each of the black-and-white photographs on display felt like they had their own stories to tell, each depicting places in Singapore that were, like the group, stuck in crisis. Frozen and unsure of where to go. All in all, it was a remarkable production for an independent group of undergraduates and I would definitely recommend taking a breather from your studies with a visit to their next show.
We never find out if they find Horatio
Playwright Clarilyn Khoo Director Michael Ng Assist. Director Christopher Chee Stage Manager Zhou Yutong Assist. Stage Manager Tan Sue-Lynn Set Designer Christer Jon Aplin
Photos by Christer Jon Aplin and Lee Russell