THEATRETHREESIXTY‘s performances have always been known for being anything but safe. From the insanity of experimental site-specific performances such as Assemblage360 and Gallery of Death to their dazzling interpretation of Caryl Churchill‘s Love and Information, the theatre company has shown a knack for brave, interesting storytelling on the stage.
Recently, they’ve gone and collaborated with Kakiseni and the Perak Society of Performing Arts for The Other Festival — a celebration of Ipoh Old Town history, food and arts taking place over three weekends from 22 Oct-8 Nov 2015.
Several days ago The Daily Seni had the chance to catch Theatrethreesixty’s contribution to the festival, titled Ascent: These Memories Were Made For Walking. Best described as daring and unconventional, Ascent is a site-specific performance spread across Ipoh Old Town.
Ascent is a foray into the unspoken narratives that are woven into the past and present of Ipoh Old Town. A street of struggles, unheard love, blossoming in a coffee shop. An argument in an empty hospice room. A single person’s work, forgotten over the years. Even as we rise above the Kinta River, emotions intertwine themselves with our recollections of the past, colouring them or suppressing them entirely.
In Ascent, audience members are led by a tour guide on a trail to four different stations.
The first station, Concubine Lane, was home to five actors who performed monologues and mini-scenes. Tales of mistresses, missed opportunities, loss and hope offered audience members an inside look into life on Concubine Lane back in its heyday.
All five actors did justice to the theatrical but honest writing courtesy of Nandang Abdul Rahman, with special mention going to Hannan Azlan and Stephanie Paulus for both pulling off impressive performances.
Hannan’s flair for singing and comedy brought some much-needed light to Concubine Lane while Stephanie’s monologue of a girl who came to Ipoh with the promise of an arranged marriage that never happened was absolutely crushing.
Further up the trail is station number two: an audio-visual installation on the second-floor of an abandoned shoplot.
This writer personally found the installation a little lacklustre – there didn’t seem to be much cohesion between the voice-overs and visual elements presented, and this was perhaps due to the lack of information and context beforehand.
All audiences were told before entering the building was that the installation was based on Yellow Gentleman, a play by Ipoh-born Benjamin Yeoh. That was it.
Without really knowing anything about the play, it was very difficult to find anything in the installation to cling onto and we wished our tour guide was equipped with more detail.
Thankfully, audience members were able to rest their tired legs at the third station, grandly titled The Great Enduring Love Of Crème Caramel For Kai See Hor Fun. Set at Ipoh Kong Heng Restaurant, audience members could order crème caramel or iced coffee while watching the short play.
While the crème caramel and iced coffee were thoroughly delectable and refreshing, the play and its actors were underwhelming, and at best, a little awkward.
The chemistry between actors Fay Rhatmanee and Rishinath Narayanasamy wasn’t very convincing seeing that they were starring in a piece titled The Great Enduring Love, making it awkward to keep watching. It was written by playwright Ariff Kamil, who wrote How I Learnt To Accept Reality by Sleeping Through It staged earlier this year, and also designed the soundscape for the installation of the previous station.
The trail finally concludes at the Birch Memorial Clock Tower. This final station is a simple monologue and offers some historical and urban tales regarding J.W.W. Birch and the clock tower — a monument with deep, historic roots over a century old.
It was a neat and tidy conclusion to an experience which, both figuratively and literally, kept audience members on their toes most of the time.
Everything considered, Theatrethreesixty’s Ascent had its hits and misses.
This writer would personally have loved to see and hear more stories from Concubine Lane, which was by far the most theatrical and enjoyable of all the stations. Despite it’s shortcomings however, this was a very refreshing way to experience local performing arts and we look forward to more from the young theatre company.
Ascent: These Memories Were Made For Walking runs until 1 November as part of Kakiseni’s The Other Festival. Featured image is of Concubine Lane (or Lorong Panglima) in the daytime.