Art and Performing Arts Review

Theater Review: ‘Purple’

By Patrick BenjaminEvents - 03 August 2012 7:00 PM

Theater Review: ‘Purple’

Shane Mardjuki (centre) is perhaps one of the most versatile and talented young theatre actors in Singapore

With the eighth annual IndigNation, our very own homegrown Pride festival of sorts starting today, it was only apt the restaging of Goh Boon Teck’s seminal play ‘Purple’ began its run at Joyden Hall, Iluma on 2 August 2012.  

And boy what a royally sumptuous theatrical treat was it! Slated to be the only public offering by Toy Factory this year, the 95 minute bio-play chronicling the emotional rollercoaster journey of Maggie Lai, Singapore’s first transsexual film star, is helmed by the ever impressive, androgynous looking thespian Shane Mardjuki.

Also read: Interview with director Goh Boon Teck

Directed by Rayann Condy (one half of the Romanian Durian Sisters in ‘881 The Musical’), this spankingly sexy, sleek update for the 21st century includes a cabaret inspired set as well as Cirque du Soleil-styled acrobatic hi-jinks conceptualized by Circus Swingapore. Previously held in the tiny shoebox of the Blackbox, our updated setting includes a 360-degree circus like stage, which allows actors to freely move around and engage with the audience while retaining the intimacy of past stagings. 

In recent interviews, Goh Boon Teck, Toy Factory’s head honcho and the director of the first two sold-out staging of the play in 1995 and 1998, had mentioned that one of the reasons for getting Canadian born Condy to direct the play was because of the anti-foreigner sentiments and fear of the outsider syndrome that plagues the national climate. This reviewer not only affirms Goh’s enlightened view but is also impressed by the nuances in the script that were brought to life on stage.

It is so convenient to go for the all out campy and ribald laughs but to structure the premise on the relationship between Maggie Lai and her dad was a stroke of inspired directing. In fact, more often than not Maggie Lai (Shane Mardjuki) cloaked the risqué jokes as a tool to flesh out the tribulations of how local society derides the transgender community and doesn’t even give the basic dignity and respect that every human deserves. From the naïve loo cleaning schoolboy to the sequined star of box-office implosion Bugis Street, Maggie made every little sinew of her gorgeously taut frame ooze with feminine grace, wile and poise. The only slight misgiving the reviewer had was the masculine accentuated pole dancing exploits during her Beef Show days in Taiwan but Maggie Lai redeemed herself with sensuous convulsions and Shu Qi-esque pouts once she landed on the ground.  

Also read: Interview with Shane Mardjuki

Representing local societal disapprovals on stage were the tongue twisting trio of churlish nurses in Mademoisella (Matilda Chua), Verinimolisa (Elizabeth Loh) and Prisercillia (Rebecca Spykerman), their repugnance going overboard in the disturbing scene where Maggie Lai undergoes a sex change operation. The trio displayed great skill with their acting and acrobatic feats but the singing interludes were not their forte and seemed strained at times.

But beyond all the campy humor and heartfelt exploration of father-child ties was the very real issue of how the numerous architectural and landscape changes to the country has affected the memories and lives of her inhabitants. When Maggie laments about how she and her sisters had to relocate from one area to another, one can’t help but feel the pain of how we lose our cultural landmarks in the face of constant urban renewal.

This might seem ironical but not too long ago Maggie and her sisters were plying their trades right across the recently refurbished Iluma, and that itself should just be a small reason for you to catch one of most compelling theatrical offerings this year.

Purple runs from the 2 August to 18 August, at the Joyden Hall at Bugis+. Tickets $45 from Sistic