MKA, Melbourne’s pop-up theatre space – now based in North Melbourne after previous outings in Abbotsford, Prahran and Richmond – has fast become a home for daring theatre makers and experimental artists. Hot on the heels of their previous production, the critically acclaimed Tuesday, comes sex.violence.blood.gore by multi-award winning Singaporean playwright, Alfian bin Sa’at.
Showing as part of the company’s current winter season, the play’s reputation proceeded its opening night on Friday June 29. A collection of superbly crafted vignettes addressing issues of sexuality, desire, gender construction and national identity, sex.violence.blood.gore was originally staged in secret, in an underground venue in Singapore, when it premiered in 1999. The Melbourne season of the play – its Australian debut – is directed by Steven Niccolazzo, and stars an ensemble cast who collectively give sensual and compelling performances; and their transformation between characters in each vignette is swift and believable.
The text’s multiple narratives detail the lives of such Singaporeans as are rarely met in history books or in-flight magazines: a nymphomaniac geography teacher at the height of her sexual awakening and self-expression; Japanese soldiers looking for one more night with their shared male lover/enforced sex-slave; a pair of transvestites’ chance meeting with two teenagers on a train.
The disturbing nature of some of the play’s subject matter is delivered with a wry smile and occasional wink, which the opening night audience loved. Small, refined physical movements, combined with conversations about sexual fantasies, heighten the hilarity of awkward moments between colonial housewives and their servants; dark, luscious caresses personify the forbidden passions of soldiers escaping the internal wars of their domestic worlds after returning home from the front.
The text drips with details of sex and desire, matched visually by the intimate, boudoir-like set and costumes, the latter comprised of layered period lingerie: lace, bodices and bows. The distorted world in which the play is set has the markings of a Lynch film, and the sound design by Claudio Tacco was haunting, provocative and totally on the money.
Towards the end of the play’s 80 minute running time it slightly pushes the boundaries of concentration and self-indulgence. That said, this is a play ripe with intrigue, and rich with queer history, eroticism, intensity and humor. Go see it.
4 stars out of 5
By Alfian bin Sa’at
Directed by Steven Niccolazzo
Design/Costume: Eugyeene Teh
Lighting: Yasmin Santoso
Sound: Claudio Tocco
Cast: Caitlin Adams, Zoe Boesen , Whitney Boyd, Catherine Davies, Genevieve Giuffre, Matt Furlani and Amy Scott Smith
MKA Theatre, North Melbourne
June 27 – July 14