Stage performer and New Zealander Andrew Wood was last seen in Theatrethreesixty‘s excellent Love and Information back in March. We sent him over to PJ Live Arts recently so he can catch Shear Madness and share his thoughts on the interactive play. Here they are in their full glory, read on!
Back for its fourth run in Malaysia with its witty quick-shot humor and experienced cast sure to bemuse and beguile, Shear Madness is a great way to spend a night out with a group of friends. Directed by Richard Gardner and produced by Natalie Chong, the show runs until the 28th of June, 2015.
For a bit of background, Shear Madness is one of the world’s longest running comedy plays. Written by German writer and psychologist Paul Portner, the play was originally titled Scherenschnitt and was a psychological study to test people’s awareness and perception (or misperception) of reality. The rights to the play were later purchased by playwrights Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan who turned it into the successful showpiece which has been running in the US since 1980.
Veteran director Richard Gardner has done a fantastic job in making this relatable to Malaysians by giving the characters a local twist and incorporating topical local comedic references. The police officers in this, for example, are exceedingly bad at keeping track of their firearms.
The story is set in a fictional unisex hair salon called ‘Shear Madness’ located in Petaling Jaya’s Jaya One shopping complex. The shop’s landlady and formerly famous concert pianist, Isabel Fernandez, has been murdered in her house above the shop with a set of beautician’s shears and it’s your job as an audience member to help root out the killer. Anyone could be a suspect and with a diverse lineup of shady characters to choose from, you’ll be kept guessing all night. It’s all a bit Sweeney Todd meets, er, Cluedo.
To begin, we are shown the vibrant salon amid a busy workday afternoon as the resident stylists and patrons go about their business as usual. There is a hectic vibe to the place but the stylists go about their business with practiced ease and playful banter.
We then meet some of the potential murderers: for one there’s the stereotypically flamboyant gay stylist Tomy (played by Qahar Aqilah). Dressed in vibrant tie-dye and fluoro, the psychedelic diva is larger than life — one eye ever on the hunt for some eye candy to flirt with. While he appears to be fully out of the closet, he may have a few dusty skeletons left hidden in there.
Stylist and beautician, Chanel (Marina Tan), appears as the sultry and seductive bimbo type. Chanel has a deceptively quick wit and sharp tongue though; perhaps this seemingly air-headed babe could be more of a femme fatale?
Encik Eddie Mustafa (Na’a Murad) is a local antiques dealer in for a shave and an afternoon meeting with Isabel. With shifty eyes, a shady demeanor and questionable character, he’s obviously capable of murder. So case closed right…?
We also have Datin Schubert (Junji Delfino) who is in on her husband’s dime to get her hair done and find time for a bit of pampering. The self-obsessed wealthy dignitary wraps her posh façade protectively about her like a thin coat of paint. The finish is cracking though and we get a glimpse of what could be hiding beneath. The two Malaysian police officers, Sergeant Yeoh (Dr. Jason Leong) and Inspector Soon (Phoon Chi Ho), are also lurking around trying to sniff out a lead.
Going in, I only knew the fact that the play was interactive. I had assumed this would be limited to audiences guessing the murderer at the end or choosing from a set of possible plot progression points to go with. Following the opening reveal however, the show shatters the fourth wall completely. The lights change and some of the characters turn and start to address the audience. Some others look a little startled or worried to see us there.
There was a sense that the stage had expanded a good 10 meters or so to include us audience members in the cast. This is when the actors switch into full-on improvisational mode. The police inspectors now need our help to bring the culprit to justice. It’s their show now and everyone had better dance to their tune. They serve as the bridge between character and audience and help keep us all on track.
There wasn’t a full house the night I attended, and at first it seemed that everyone was rather reserved. However, with the help of Inspector Soon and his partner, audience members were soon roused and thoroughly involved.
Phoon in his role as Inspector Soon seemed perfectly at ease as he tried to coax some life into shell-shocked audiences all the while dropping random hilarious one liners satirizing grim local issues. Thanks to this combination of comedy and coercion, audiences were soon giving back as good as they got.
Topical humour and innuendo abound in Shear Madness. The characters heckle the crowd and can be rather crass at times. This helps to create a bit of us-and-them rivalry that — along with a good dollop of sexual tension — draws one in deeper into the illusion as audiences get more invested in the characters and start to develop “personal” opinions and desires for them.
The experience can potentially be heavily affected by the audience at hand so be prepared to stand up for yourself, you, and have a little fun with the characters as they thrive on the attention and energy.
I won’t tell you who I accused of the murder or if I had guessed correctly and you won’t be getting any clues here. What I can tell you is that I left feeling extremely satisfied and wanting to do it all over again. Due to the element of improvisation and the show’s audience-driven nature, you could watch Shear Madness on multiple occasions and be sure to get a different experience with each viewing.
There is a reason this show has been around for so long: it has a great reputation and it’s apparent once you have seen the show that it’s a well deserved one. But don’t take this guy’s word for it; be sure not to miss it and see for yourself.
Shear Madness runs until the 28th of June at PJ Live Arts @ Jaya One. The show is on Sundays and Mondays: for complete showtimes, refer to their Facebook event page. All photos sourced from PJ Live Arts and Gardner and Wife Theatre.