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Presented at The Twenty Something Festival

16 - 19 June 2016

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

Playwright Joel Tan

Performers Ellison Tan Yuyang, Erwin Shah Ismail, Jasmine Xie, Joshua Lim, Zee Wong

Lighting Designer Petrina Dawn Tan

Sound Designer Ryann Othniel Seng

Set Designer Sara Chan

Producer Mok Cui Yin

Stage Manager Geraldine Ang

Assistant Stage Managers Michelle, Anne Lee, Sabrina

Something terrible is happening in Singapore. It's coming from the sky, from across the sea, from under our feet. Meanwhile, five people find themselves in a cafe in Singapore. Two customers talk obliviously about waffles, selfies and truffle fries while the three cafe staffers wait helplessly for their shift to finish as the calamity draws closer and closer, threatening to burst right through the windows. What does it mean to live comfortably in a world that's never kept still? How do we remain in the world and make peace with it? Can we be nicer to wait staff? More questions than answers, and shot through with the ambivalence of living in modern Singapore, this is a play about the way we live and the things we hope for.

Cafe: Text
Production Image. A cafe with soil on the ground. There is a table with two customers, and a flask of blue liquid on the table. There are two cafe staff wearing leather aprons and holding brooms. They seem to be confronting the customers.
Cafe: Image

Cafe has been described as a 'horror film that ratchets up its tension gradually and methodically' (The Business Times), and on some level it is. Joel Tan (playwright) and I worked on ramping up the strangeness of the world step by step, the way you boil a frog. Nature encroaches - soil starts building up on the cafe floor, water in the coffee maker turns blue, the way we picture water in the ocean. A volcano casually erupts in the distance. The characters try to carry on as if nothing happened. As time goes on, props, even set pieces, start to disappear from scene to scene. Whatever it is, is closing in fast. But the characters choose to carry on talking, being talked at, and manning half a coffee counter. We watch as nature takes bites out of the built environment and it or an unknown force wipes them out. 

Cafe: Text
Production image. Two cafe customers, both female. The one wearing a dress and red lipstick seems to be haughty, while her companion in shorts looks diffident.
Cafe: Image

I think there's a lot of truth to the play. We are quite gifted at being oblivious, and adept at ignoring things. Against the apocalyptic backdrop, the play explores different facets of this - from refusing to acknowledge the ugliness in oneself to actively theorising about why other people deserve to fall through the cracks in the system. Even though it had strong arguments to make, I loved that the dialogue was never didactic - the characters don't talk about anything much, but it's all there in and between the lines. In fact, the lines were often deliberately inane - huge chunks of text about an electric steamer or somebody's dream last night - and an exciting challenge to stage. The actors and I worked in the urgent and sinister underlying (and at times disrupting) the mind-numbing prattle, and unearthed some sort of kindness, affection, and hilarity in this world turned vicious. Cafe was nominated for Best Script and Best Ensemble at The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards, and listed as one of the favourite plays of 2016 by The BusinessTimes.

Cafe: Text
Cafe: Selected Work

Photos by Crispian Chan

Cafe: Text
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