Review: Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys (22 Jan 2021)

PHOTO: M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

(warning: major spoilers ahead)

Lawful

Being a volunteer at Festivals like the Fringe accords you some benefits. Not all the time, though. I didn’t get to watch the show on its opening run but thankfully, the sole staff/volunteer seat within the theatre which housed its socially-distanced audience of 21 was available, and the Festival Manager was kind enough to let me have it. The caveat, being, of course, that I become the Safe Distancing Ambassador for the night.

(I was wearing backstage crew attire though, and not the perennial red shirt coupled with indistinct bottoms that you usually find roaming around the shopping malls.)

Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys (HGKB) opened with a pair of girls playing a video game, with one trying to teach the other (or perhaps help the other choose a role) within the game. Character roles are referenced, such as the Rebel, the Healer, and some others that I don’t remember.

I should perhaps note at this point that the cast from NAFA made the supremely brave choice to stage their perspective of the youth reactions to political/social upheaval entirely in Cantonese (for the parts which portrayed youths in Hong Kong, I mean, and not the other social/political events). This decision, to me, did not pay off for the simple fact that I was a native Cantonese speaker, and thus, not reading the surtitles, the unclear pronunciation made the experience jarring for me.

Still, it was an artistically engaging choice to open first with the events of the Hong Kong riots and protests, for they made for stunning visuals made possible by three large-screen monitors facing the audience at the backdrop, as well as the strategic use of smoke machines, fast-paced costume changes and the realist portrayals of a riot and physical altercations in their performative piece.

The storyline then slowly evolves, making not so-subtle hints to both the Arab Spring conflict and Thai cave rescue, in which a soccer team of boys and their coach were trapped in and eventually rescued from an underwater prison. Satirical portrayals of a dictator and the spiritual brought chuckles from the audience at certain points in time, though I felt like humour wasn’t what the team was gunning for in the larger picture.

Overall I would say in terms of an audience member unfamiliar with the broader context of the work and as someone who’s seen more than a few theatre productions I both like and dislike, it was an enjoyable watch.

Though the storyline was non-linear and its disjointed multimedia-visuals at times seemed to only add chaos to what was already happening on stage, I felt as well as read the overall message that was promised to me as an audience member and I was not disappointed. A recommended watch to someone who wants something out of the norm yet not too avant-garde that they wouldn’t be able to recognise what was going on.

Neutral

Chaos.

“What the hell is going on?!”

bzztt… beep… boop… deet deet doot doot…

Sensors picking up human reader.

Identity confirmed.

Attendant of—

Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys.

Oh, hello.

Was that weird for you?

Sorry I had to, um, set up safeguards in place, you know. Just to watch out for whoever’s reading this.

Was that starting bamboozling for you?

Well, now you know how I felt about halfway into HGKB.

As I said, the storyline was clear as day (and so was the message) about the first 15–20 minutes into the play.

It was from then on that things started to take a turn for the unusual and the uninitiated, when things such as boys represented by dolls held by the actors started conversing with one another, or when a woman in red started telling a fairytale to a girl who was in obvious physical, emotional and mental distress.

In the words of how you first encountered this section:

“What the hell?”

With that being said, a bit more reflection on the artistic presentation of the piece, as well as the influences from its director and playwright, helped the play to kind of “click” for me.

The intricate ability to weave confusion into a narrative yet send out a coherent message was something I truly appreciated from this piece.

Sure, dissidents would probably point to the overwhelming use of bombastic visual, light and sound effects as another manifestation of this generation of theatre-makers’ penchant for “flashy=successful” but in comparison to some other productions I have watched (coughs, OLD WOMAN, coughs), the use of technology and visuals made sense, at least in conveying what I felt was the artists’ message to the audience.

What do we turn to in times of strife? In times of chaos, conflict and especially when our minds, our very bodies are not yet acculturated to the world?

What do we do, when conflict becomes the very cornerstone of our lives, and what, or how then, does it intersect with our daily struggles or even our mundane, monotonous lives?

Exploring how youths (a relative term I might add) live, breathe and navigate life within the turgid and shock-inducing realities of civil war, military conflict and the loss and uncertainty of our friends and family’s lives, was an interesting concept for a graduation piece. And if the play’s concluding scene was anything to go by, a perhaps well-calculated risk in terms of its dramaturgy and level of engagement with the audience.

Although there were times I felt there was too much going on onstage (e.g. the Hong Kong riots, the interweaving of the dictator’s interaction with the woman in red and the girl-band), I later realised it helped to ground me in the exact notion which I felt anchored me for the play:

chaos.

Chaotic

Anger.

Confusion.

Hopelessness.

Despair.

These were the secret ingredients the Professor knew he needed to make a perfect, artmaking life.

But, Professor P accidentally added an Xtra ingredient to the concoction.

DISSATISFACTION.

And thus, Junior P was born!

Using his non-ultra,non-superpowers,

P has dedicated his life to fighting despondence

And the forces of Good!

———————————————————————————————

Havoc Girls & Kamikaze Boys is still available as a video-on-demand from 24 January to 30 January on the M1 Fringe Festival webpage. For more information, please visit https://singaporefringe.com/fringe2021/events/havoc-girls-kamikaze-boys/

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Philippe Pang

Philippe Pang

A communicator at heart; a manager at hand, but always the speaker of the truth for those who cannot.