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Witty bra-haha over censorship

The Straits Times | Corrie Tan | Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014

Actors Goncalo Waddington and Isabel Abreu (both above) try to strip down the arguments of censorship in Three Fingers Below The Knee.

SINGAPORE - Bring up censorship in a play and you are almost guaranteed a packed house in Singapore.

There is a thirst in this country's theatre-going public when it comes to examining the cutting and dicing of artwork on stage, a nudge-wink delight to be able to engage with something so deeply lodged in Singapore's cultural history through the medium of art itself.

Portuguese theatre group Mundo Perfeito's Three Fingers Below The Knee is a reminder that censorship does not and has not existed in Singapore alone, but that it takes many shapes and forms, from the well-intentioned to the absurd.

Playwright and director Tiago Rodrigues has dug into Portugal's national archive and compiled a play entirely from the words of the censors of the 1926 to 1974 right-wing dictatorship, who ordered theatre's demise.

The result is a tapestry of censors' letters woven into a rough-edged coat of many colours, an eye-catching and thought-provoking outfit despite some unravelling seams.

There is plenty of nudging and winking here, and actors Isabel Abreu and Goncalo Waddington invite the complicity of the audience from the get-go.

Theatregoers are told "the audience enters" by way of supertitling, followed by a deluge of stage directions from classic plays that presumably did not pass the censors, from Julius Caesar to Lady Windermere's Fan, and the reasons why.

Like Hamlet's Players, the actors clearly relish their roles in this historical expose, acting as conduits for all manner of moral and ideological justification.

"This play was not approved," they tell the audience coyly. "This play is not advisable for families" and "this play is very long and would benefit from a few cuts."

Within the loose structure of a three-act play, Rodrigues covers issues of sensuality, public appeal and political agitation by way of real-life censorship reports; juxtaposing them against classic plays and various styles of performance in parody as the actors slip in and out of period costumes.

There is no overarching story here, but there are attempts to link two worlds. One scene intersperses Antigone's silent pleading with King Creon (in Sophocles' Greek tragedy) with the seven years in which a Portuguese theatre practitioner pestered the censors to allow her to stage a Swiss play.

And as the censors obsess over human flesh, Abreu's nearly naked body becomes a powerfully disembodied canvas of cuts in bright red lipstick: no breasts, no waist, no thighs, no skin, nothing.

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