sex.violence.blood.gore | Review
Cameron Woodhead | The Age
27 July, 2012
Repression inspires queer suite of tales.
MKA started two years ago with the brief of bringing us the best new writing for the stage. Sex.violence.blood.gore is certainly that. Singaporean playwright Alfian bin Sa’at takes his country’s turbulent history of repression and weaves a poetic, hilarious, deeply affecting and decidedly queer suite of scenarios from it. It’s a terrific play, and compulsory viewing for anyone serious about theatre.
Singapore has gone from malaria-infested swamp to economic powerhouse in a matter of generations, but the cost to personal liberties has been high. Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian legacy haunts the action, as does the terror of Japanese occupation, the yoke of British colonisation, and contemporary ethnic and racial conflict in south-east Asia.
In bin Sa’at’s imagination, these sweeping historical forces, and the repression they have inspired, collapse into a chaotic parade of human sexuality.
Under stifling sexual mores, a woman loses control of her sexuality, and only extreme violence can tame it. A man is forced into homosexual slavery by Japanese soldiers in WWII. During the height of the British Empire, English ladies cane servants and conduct lesbian affairs. Transsexuals tell glamorous and disturbing stories to two boys on a train.
And, in a final, chilling monologue, the Singaporean dead are met at the gates of oblivion by Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee, a monstrous fusion of global porn star and the spirit of Lee Kuan Yew.
Stephen Nicolazzo has achieved a swift, stylised, gender-bending production; the ensemble of young actors performs with discipline and rhetorical authority, shadowed by playful, mischievous humour.
The show doesn’t always find a style of performance that crystallises the labile and multilayered text, but when it does, it’s dazzling theatre. Eugyeene Teh’s design and costumes fuse tyrannical impulses with lurid eroticism.
Sex.violence.blood.gore achieves a hallucinatory quality, and becomes both a nightmare and a wet dream that proceeds from what an entire nation has repressed. I wonder what it would look like if someone attempted a similar take on Australia.