A local staging of British play, Contractions

  • Arts
  • Friday, 25 Aug 2017

Anne James (The Manager) and Sandee Chew (Emma) in Theatresauce's take on Contractions by British playwright Mike Bartlett. Photos: Asher Au

How much of your life is really yours? We revel at having the world at our fingertips, but they say everything comes at a price. Is privacy more precious a commodity now than ever before? Should it be?

Food for thought indeed, as urban theatre collective Theatresauce takes on Olivier Award-winning British playwright Mike Bartlett’s Contractions, a dark and comedic exploration of challenging and breaking a dystopian system.

In this play, a ruthless manager, unwavering in her duty-bound obligations, goes up against unsuspecting employee Emma.

They talk, the manager questions Emma about her involvement with a colleague, it all seems perfectly normal at first – but is it really?

“If I had thought we had done something – anything – romantic, I would tell you, as in my contract,” says Emma at one point.

This play is realism cross-examined under stark fluorescent lights.

So the manager presses on with her enquiries, and somewhere between sterile company policy matters and awkward personal details, something dark and sinister starts brewing, even as laughter is wrung from the audience.

Is this normal? Should it be normal that it is?

First written for BBC’s Radio 4, Contractions eventually became a stage play that premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2008.

The upcoming Malaysian production, featuring Five Arts Centre’s Anne James as The Manager and Sandee Chew as Emma, will be staged at KLPac, starting Aug 24.

“The surface is that of a common – if not slightly futuristic – workplace, but the undertones are that of a larger issue: that the Everyman is stuck. Stuck within the shackles of urbanisation, societal pressure, capitalism and conformity. And stuck within the coolness, ruthlessness and sterility of the entire system,” says Kelvin Wong, Theatresauce founder and artistic director, who directs the play.

He is assisted by Alex Chua, one of the four directors-in-training from Theatresauce’s Emerging Directors Lab.

He shares that Contractions is dark, but funny. It is also tense and familiar, and one wonders if it is just slightly uncomfortable because it oozes truth.

“What I appreciate about Bartlett is his ability to reflect common everyday speech, including interjections, ellipses, unconscious repetitions, mind/speech blips, on paper. It is terse, economical, and most importantly, clear,” he says.

Contractions is Theatresauce’s first main stage production for its 2017/18 season.

Wong, who directed Contractions when he was in graduate school in the US in 2013, shares that it called out to him again when he was planning the inaugural season of Theatresauce, which he founded last year after returning to Malaysia.

“It was relevant then, with the rise of surveillance and infringing on personal information online, and it is still relevant now, if not more so, in terms of privacy issues of identity. I am drawn to the politics and dynamics of individuals fighting against a gargantuan entity, be it a corporation, a governance, or any majority group of people, for the truth, equality and freedom,” he says.

This is happening across the globe right now, he observes, adding that he believes that we are slowly moving towards “something unexpected, test impactful and life-changing” in the near future.

“An online revolution? A kind of horrific WW3 but without the bombs and missing limbs?” he muses.

Theatresauce’s approach to theatre is to exhilarate and engage the urban audience, in a manner that is edgy.

In this sense, Contractions ticks all the right boxes.

“This play is mostly realistic – albeit slightly extraordinary circumstances as we progress in time – so that is much honouring of that: intentional, character, given circumstances and action. There is a kind of fragility and unexpectedness with realism, which is why I think human beings are so drawn to it. But realism is also hardest to do in a play because every performance is, and will be, slightly different, and you as a director would hope for a kind of consistency throughout the run, that we are telling the same story every time,” says Wong.

Contractions might be a small play, in that it is two actors on stage and runs for just over an hour, but it boldly ventures into the ominous grey space looming over all of us.

“The play poses this question: How far will you go to fight for your rights? How far will you go to fight for what is right? Or is this a futile endeavour at the end of the day, or play?” Are we too far gone, or is there hope yet?” he adds.

Contractions, which runs for 70 minutes with no interval, will be performed with no changes to the original script.

Contractions is on at Indicine in KL Performing Arts Centre from Aug 24 to 27 and from Aug 30 to Sept 3. For more information, call 03-4047 9000 (KLPac)/03-7880 7999 (ticketpro) or visit ticketpro.com.my. You can also head to theatresauce.com.

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