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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]


Sugu Pillay’s play Serendipity raises some interesting questions about cultural identity, freedom fighting and our attitudes toward people of different cultures. However, its premiere production does little to express or even acknowledge these ideas in any really identifiable way.

Overall, the production felt underworked and unfinished. Some clear decisions had been made, seemingly with no sense of the text or the space in which it was performed.

One clear decision was to choreograph some of the actors’ movements, which were proved more a hindrance than a tool in realising the text. On each line, the actors would make a random, often completely unrelated movement, which did nothing other than distract the audience from potentially interesting dialogue. The actors seemed to have no idea why they were moving in such a way, which further removed any possibility of it serving the scenes. Even if we were to accept it as a non-naturalistic convention, I struggle to see what its purpose was, as it neither served to reveal the story and characters, nor did it have any aesthetic quality.

There were moments when the actors did engage with the material: Malini’s (Ban Abdul) monologue about her experience as a Tamil tiger, and Jeff’s (Waylan Edwards) revelation to Malini of her miscarriage. The stillness around this dialogue drew me in, allowing me to invest something in the characters, who in these scenes at least, appear truthful.

While ideas in the script were topical and important, its construction was riddled with issues. Often talking in circles, the characters took far too long to make obvious points or connections. It seemed obsessed with structuring itself around a series of contrived reveals of character points, which in isolation were some of the most watchable points of the production, yet muddied the script as a whole, making the story difficult to follow.

There is potential, but by the second night it just had not been realised. With a long season, the production may improve, but I left the theatre feeling that I had watched a first run through, littered with acting exercises, rather than a finished play.

It is difficult to decide what standards to hold Serendipity to. Its cast and crew are split pretty evenly into professional and amateur. The programme notes make several references to this being a professional production but it seems unfair to judge it on those terms. If you considered it as an amateur work, somewhat out of its depth in BATS, it was an admirable failure. Judging it as a professional work then one would have to be much harsher.

Written by Sugu Pillay
Directed by Bronwyn Tweddle
BATS Theatre, 17–28 Mar 2009


About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

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