October 03, 2017

OzAsia – Accommodating force of history


Accommodating force of history

Hotel (Parts I and II)
by Alfian Sa’at & Marcia Vanderstraaten
Wild Rice
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 28-29. Duration: Part I – Two hours 40 minutes,
Part II – One hour 40 minutes.

It is not every day you get a chance to spend two nights in a grand hotel, and this centrepiece theatre listing in the 2017 OzAsia program lives up to its five star ratings. From Singapore’s inventive Wild Rice company, Hotel (Parts I and II) is not only theatrically bold and entertaining, it has sharply polemic and often culturally outspoken themes which were exhilarating to Singaporeans and are insightful and sometimes confronting for Australian audiences.

Commissioned in 2015 for the 50th year anniversary of Singapore’s independence, Hotel was enthusiastically received in its premiere season and is playing internationally for the first time. In a location closely resembling the famous Raffles Hotel, Wild Rice directors Ivan Heng and Glen Goei, with an excellent ensemble of fourteen actors, present eleven separate plays each set a decade apart from 1915 to 2015.

The stories are strongly drawn and take unexpected turns. In 1915, a pompous English plantation manager interrupts his young wife’s honeymoon plans by insisting she attend a public execution. The ignorant racist presumption of the Europeans is shocking to witness.

In 1925, two cousins – one a laundry worker, the other a ladies maid – unexpectedly meet and secretly dress up in Madam’s expensive clothes. A comic farce shifts disturbingly when we discover the young maid is being held in virtual slavery.

Hotel constantly challenges and changes perspectives of race and gender, sexual preference, national and ethnic identity, and the chasm between privilege and servitude.

Part II, beginning in 1975, charts new social issues such as gender re-assignment and old difficulties like inter-racial marriage and generational conflict. As in the works of Robert Lepage, some later stories link with previous events – such as the Japanese Occupation and 9/11.

Stylishly directed by Heng and Goei, the production uses the choreography and fluidity of a musical, as cast members, dressed as bellboys and maids, re-set designer Wong Chee Wai’s adaptable hotel room with new décor for each unfolding facet of Singapore’s complex history.

Artful back-projections from multimedia designer Brian Gothong Tan not only paper the hotel walls but illustrate the action with news clippings and archival photography. The lighting by Lim Woan Wen is a technicolour feast and adds further vibrancy to this delectable production. The filmic music and sound design, by Paul Searles and The Gunnery, propels the action; pop songs reflect changing times, and English hymns and anthems are used to discomforting satiric effect.

This is a rich event, impressively written and presented. Concluding with a strangely compelling death bed scene (brilliantly performed by Ivan Heng and the versatile Pam Oei) Hotel does not let up until checkout time.

OzAsia runs until October 8.
Bookings 131 246.

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