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  M1SFF09: WE LIVE IN A BOX [Preview and Reviews]
« on: January 12, 2009, 11:48:50 PM » by alvintck


Young playwright Irfan Kasban also directs his first English playwright

adeline chia
arts reporter

The Straits Times
Saturday, January 10 2009
Page E4

Few 21-year-old playwrights get the sort of break scored by Irfan

He was commissioned by the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival to write and
direct a full-length play, and theatregoers can catch it today and

Irfan's play, We Live In A Box, is one of 21 works by local and
foreign artists being staged during the two-week festival organised by
The Necessary Stage which started on Wednesday.

The 11/2-hour production, which is on at the Substation Theatre, is
about a boy who has been given an empty house by an angel to manage.

Alongside that story runs another about a couple who have been trying
to conceive.

The audience finds out that the boy is actually the couple's unborn

All the roles are played by freelance actors Shida Mahadi, 27, who was
last seen in angel-ism, a bilingual play by Panggung Arts and Drama
Box, and newcomer Haikal Mohamed, 25.

The music is composed by Adrian Yuen, who scored the animation film
Sing To The Dawn.

We Live In A Box is the first play in English by Irfan, who has
previously written shorter plays in Malay.

The house is a metaphor for the human mind, says the playwright, who
wrote the play while doing his national service.

He adds: “I've always been very curious about human identity. I don't
believe that I am who I am solely based on my own decisions; other
people's decisions affect who I am and who I become. I've been
troubled by this. When can you call me me?”

Irfan, who has a diploma in Applied Food Sciences and Nutrition from
Temasek Polytechnic, ventured into theatre when he wrote and directed
a short play for the 2006 Pesta Peti Putish (White Box Festival), an
annual Malay theatre festival for tertiary students organised by
Teater Ekamatra.

The play, CLASSIFIED: Project Chongkak, about the classification of
people into racial stereotypes in Singapore, won Best Script and Best
Production Design.

He then entered a playwriting course mentored by experienced
playwrights such as Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Alfian Sa'at.

He started doing lighting design for several Ekamatra productions, and
in 2007, wrote and directed a short play called Genap 40 (In 40) about
a woman who meets an angel.

Last year, he approached The Necessary Stage to stage a triple bill of
Malay plays he wrote.

The theatre group's resident playwright Haresh Sharma read the
translated version and asked if he would consider writing an English

Says Sharma, 43: “Irfan has a refreshing voice, it's very visual and
very abstract. He's very clear about what he wants to say. So I think
he has a very good future as a theatre artist in whatever language.”


book it


Where: Substation Theatre
When: Today, 3 and 8pm
Tomorrow, 3pm
Admission: $19 from Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Photo Caption: Irfan Kasban (left) wrote the play, which stars Shida
Mahadi (right) and Haikal Mohamed (far right), while in national


Young life holds promise

review | theatre

By Irfan Kasban
Substation, Guinness Theatre, Sunday

ng yisheng

We Live In A Box is a strange, evocative play by 21-year-old director/
playwright Irfan Kasban. He has developed since his earlier work Genap 
40, becoming more ambitious and grounded in his exploration of the 
theme of birth.

There are two storylines: Hawa, a photographer in a rocky marriage, 
discovers she is pregnant. It is a portrait of an oppressed woman 
trying to find herself. The second is the viewpoint of the soul of the 
child inside her.

All roles are played by Ahmad Haikal Mohamed and Shida Mahadi, with 
best results in Hawa's narrative. Here, Haikal morphs from a fuming 
husband to a sinister bureaucrat to a pushy ex-classmate, bullying 
Hawa at every turn.

There is momentum, realism and emotional power in such dialogues, and 
moments of transcendence. In one scene, Hawa stands alone in a dark 
room, chanting quotes from Van Gogh as she soaks a roll of film in 
chemicals. Then the lights come on, her husband rushes in, vows never 
to abandon her again and embraces her against her will as the film 
falls from her hand.

What does not work so well is the narrative of the unborn baby. The 
premise is interesting: a soul receives a new house to develop, a 
metaphor for its growing mind. Yet the logic of this abstract world is 
inconsistent – does the angel know the baby will be aborted, or 
doesn't she?

Scenes are slow, and both actors perform with more childishness than 
dignity. Ultimately, the unpolished language and direction betray the 
youth of the theatre-maker.

Still, Irfan compensates with striking decisions as the set, lighting 
and multimedia designer, combining bare, hanging light bulbs with 
haunting videos of Singapore life. With time and experience, he could 
attain real excellence, with this play remembered as a foretaste of 
greater things yet to come.



We Live in a Box by Irfan Kasban
7:23 AM | Author: Alison

First up, I have to say The Necessary Stage must have been
really gutsy to believe in a 21 year old and providing him
an incredible opportunity to stage his debut English play
during the M1 Fringe Festival.

Was the strong faith in him a justified one? In my opinion,
I think Irfan is no doubt a brilliant writer - We Live In A
Box has an interesting narrative, coupled with beautiful
abstract subtones that would have been glorified if it was a
dramatic reading. When it went from page to stage - the
direction simply killed the gem. Irfan tried re-creating the
beauty from his script through overly ambitious metaphors
and symbols that seemed to be inconsequential. Irfan was
pursuing aesthetics and that classy profound allegories -
but as I always believe in, if it is not done with much
thought, the whole classy thing would fall flat and somewhat
shallow. For example, I love the fact that Irfan uses scenes
of Singapore like MRT trains and buses to do scene
transitions coupled with Adrian's excellent sounds - but
when he explained the concept of a living room to be
symbolised using MRT carriages and how it was similar, it
had me cringing in doubt. I began to wonder - were all the
references he had whimsical desires which he threw in
whenever he felt like it, or was it a supposed showcase of
his brilliance in deeper meanings?

I loved the rigidness of the set - the whole idea of a box
with a lot of angles, lines, and structure. For once, I
thought this was done quite nicely. Other than that, I
thought the show was a showcase of Irfan's whims and fancies
- it seemed that whatever he liked, it was put in without a
proper justification and this could be seen in his post-show
dialogue with the audience. To me, it became something which
was overly-indulgent, and he was only concerned with
aesthetics of the show without considering the
value-addedness it has to the show.

The actors were okay, not exactly brilliant. Both of them
were similar and had opportunities to shine though I thought
they only brought glimpses of potential to the table and
didn't shine at all. I had issues with the female lead's
voice projection though I thought she brought more feelings
than the male lead. However, for both actors, they had
problems with their energy levels, and problems with
bringing more intimacy with their acting. It seemed as if
they were just doing very superficial acting, transiting
from characters to characters and never got to connect with
the audience.

Irfan is no doubt an excellent writer, with his plethora of
ideas and underlying connotations that he wishes to deliver
- which was what I believed that earned him this
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, he should have had
another eye to keep tab on his production, so as to prevent
it from becoming too self-indulgent. A lot of techniques and
visuals that were used became a waste of time and resources,
for I thought the audiences wouldn't see the nuances that he
was trying to portray. Irfan also has a knack for missing
coherent details - I don't see why the MRT scene would have
the sounds of doors closing, but nothing else - What about
the name of the stop, the sounds of doors opening? In
addition, he also commits the sin of having extremely long
scene transitions - though I know there were multimedia
projections but there were very irrelevant with contrived
reasonings. The actors also take their time to change in
front of the audience which I found veyr disturbing because
they would walk across the projections and their every
actions do not escape the eyes of the audiences. The scene
transitions almost killed me - and the pace of the show, I
almost could kill myself with the boredom.

Other than the music, and the somewhat refreshing narrative,
the rest of the production was a disappointment. However, I
believe he's a gem that just needs little polishing before
he shines. He just needs a mentor to question his every
move, and make him find compelling reasons for his actions.
Right now, he's still an amateur.

justwatchlah rating: 1.5 stars.



Kenneth Kwok's Notes

Theatre Review: "We Live In A Box" by Irfan Kasbah
Sun 12:45am

In the programme notes for the show, director/playwright Irfan Kasbah writes about how we live in a world of “too many words” and how “every time we open our mouths, we become less of who we really are”. We Live In A Box would have benefited if he had followed his own advice more closely. The basic narrative – will an unexpected pregnancy turn the house of an estranged couple into a home? – works especially well in the play’s less verbose and fussy moments. Irfan’s light and set designs, though not revolutionary, are also quite striking and I especially enjoyed the extended scene transitions which involved a simple combination of Adrian Yuen’s evocative soundscape and slideshows of photographs depicting everyday life in Singapore. What let the production down was its verbosity, especially the script’s overuse of florid lines choked by metaphors which the otherwise creditable actors were also clearly uncomfortable with. The construction of the script was generally weak as well – ambitious ideas were not always sustained or well-developed and the sidesteps into the surreal never fully convinced. Irfan is a young artist who shows potential but he needs to exert tighter control over his playwriting. **1/2 out of 5 stars.

We Live In A Box
Irfan Kasbah
10, 11 Jan: 3pm. Additional 8pm show on 10 Jan.
Guinness Theatre, The Substation



Review: We Live in a Box by Irfan Kasban
January 13, 2009, 6:01 am

Filed under: Commentaries, Theatre | Tags: artzine
singapore, artzinesg, TheatreReview: We Live in a Box by
Irfan Kasban

By: Rannald Sim

What the Box really means.

We Live in a Box is Irfan Kasban’s debut English play
which was held at the Substation as part of the M1 Singapore
Fringe Festival. The small enclosed space of the Guinness
Theatre clearly fits the bill as suggested by the title,
though somebody has got to do something about those darned

WE LIVE IN A BOX is concerned about the concept of a home
and is obsessed about the use of space, its meaning, the
dialogue between a house, home and its occupants and
ultimately questions the idea of relationships. Two plots
run parallel to each other – the soul and mind of the
foetus, and the drama of its parents in the ‘outside’

SPACE. The central focus of the play indeed. After reminding
myself of the dangers of the ‘economy-class’ syndrome, I
got used to the dingy dark room (I use this term literally
here for now…) I found myself in a black box with
eccentrically stringed light-bulbs and regularly placed
white strips on the floor illuminated by incandescent UV
lamps at the side making for a more ghostly version of a
life-size chess set.

Before entering though, a Philips light-bulb was placed into
my hand. The playwright himself, now part of the play,
collected the light-bulbs from the audience after we seated
gingerly. (*Ding ding! Symbolism number ONE).

SYMBOLISM is one of Irfan’s plus points. He, too,
discussed it during the short dialogue session after the
play, about his conscious use of multi-layered symbolism
throughout the entire play. Light-bulbs are themselves
fragile, just like life. The gas within it is necessary to
sustain the burning of the filament. Break it and it dies.
Just as when you abort a foetus, you break it away from the
confines of the womb. A mind without a soul is not a mind,
so on and so forth. The use of light in a dark and
claustrophobic space similarly engages the audience like

They represent hope, ideals, dreams, and life itself. Yet
even so, the sudden brightening of a darkroom (here meaning
the room used to develop photographs…) destroys the dreams
of the female lead of finally unlocking the lost memories of
her past as she clutches at the now messed up roll of film,
just as it illuminates that of her husband who now finally
has the child to make his family and home complete.

The space provided by the theatre was also easily
transformed with gestures and sound – yet another of his
strong points. The crowded MRT noted by the audience with
the simple raising of the hand to the bulb wires. The
familiar rustling of people, background humming, the doors,
the way Irfan mimicked cordial and civil conversations, made
for effective drama.

I was particularly impressed by how the audience become part
of the scene as ‘passengers’ within the make-believe MRT
itself. Reality and fantasy collided. We felt the
awkwardness and uneasiness of the female protagonist as she
attempts to evade the truth, just as we shared her disdain
for the embarrassing outbursts of her long-lost classmate.
That was the scene which arguably made the play. In
addition, the effective use of dual simultaneous
conversation to evoke tension with constant and repeated
alliteration heightened the climax of the play and thereby
demonstrated Irfan’s immense potential for English plays
in the near future. I loved the music, intoxicating and
still playing non-stop in my head and also the avant-garde
like video clips. The other dramatic moments – the
dropping of the film, or the phone – were but simple

Nevertheless, the vivacity of the angel, the stoic
awkwardness of the soul-figure, and the comic presentation
of the angel Michael via a persistent and annoying male
Indian receptionist caused the play to oscillate violently
between a philosophical and incomprehensibly farcical tone.
It wasn’t set right at the beginning. Although Irfan
explained the presentation of the angels during the
dialogue, it didn’t seem clearly self-evident. Perhaps the
few raw, unpolished segments which were overdone in the play
and particularly got under my skin…

ENTRAPMENT. The failure to present a radical revision of the
meaning of family and home, therefore captured the essence
of living within a ‘box’. You cannot escape the box, but
you can make it better, familiar. ‘Home’ is the
familiar. Home is also the box. The box is reality. The box
also represents the mindsets, the ideologies and beliefs
that we are trapped in. We are trapped in reality. Hence,
the dissipation of happiness and the possibility of any
relationship for the protagonist at the end forces audiences
to consider the belief in the impossibility of having a real
‘family’ and ‘home’ without the presence of a child.
The protagonist’s marriage fails due to the inability, and
ultimate refusal, to conceive. Similarly, the soul-figure is
ultimately trapped within the confines of the mind even as
he tries to make its menacing surroundings ‘home’ and
cannot escape his impending death.

All in all, kudos to Irfan for a job well-done! I look
forward to his other plays in the future with much
anticipation, as he finds himself and his style within
‘the box’.

Share with us your views on Art & The Family.

This review is part of ArtZine’s Special Coverage of the
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Read our reviews of the other
festival performances here.

* n635352141_1775717_7745.jpg (16.16 KB, 429x306 - viewed 338 times.)

« Last Edit: January 13, 2009, 09:51:15 AM by alvintck »

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