Rubber Girl On The Loose makes ancient Greek tragedy accessible through dance, drumming and contemporary dialogue.
The play is presented by Cake for the annual The Studios season of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, and is the latest in writer-director Natalie Hennedige’s productions inspired by ancient classics, following Electra (2016) and Medea (2017).
The source text for Rubber Girl On The Loose is Sophocles’ play Antigone, an homage to democracy set in the nation of Thebes.
Hennedige’s retelling is set in a school and underscores the tragedy of a system that refuses to respond to the needs of its people. Sophocles’ tyrant, Creon, becomes a headmaster; a chorus of Theban elders becomes a powerless teacher (Masturah Oli). An armed sentry becomes a school prefect (Andrew Marko), who wields drumsticks similar to the percussion instruments Creon uses to communicate.
A nuanced villain
The tyrant is no cardboard villain.
Three performers convey Creon’s complexity and the immense power he wields over the system.
Ghafir Akbar speaks Creon’s lines, while Matthias Engler tunes the tension in each scene through percussion. Dancer Darlane Litaay is Creon’s “body”, communicating with the tyrant’s defiant niece Antigone through dance. This silent performance is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that the other two demand all the audience’s attention.
Ghafir is enthroned on the highest seat and his dialogue emphasised through multimedia; while Engler’s gongs and cymbals consistently overwhelm Antigone. Dancer Sarah Chaffey’s geometric movements hold the spotlight only when no Creon performs.
Rubber Girl On The Loose is tragicomic theatre of the absurd, moving from punchlines about Tiger Mums to deploying rubber bands small and large as instruments of destruction. It is fun, but there is too much happening for the audience to appreciate.
The dead has arisen
A key plot point is the body of Antigone’s brother, Polyneices (Nicholas Tee), left to rot at Creon’s command.
Unfortunately, it is placed so near the audience that it is easily overlooked, rather than providing horrific undertones to the opening scenes. One notices it only when the actor rises and speaks.
Sophocles’ play was written to remind Greeks of the dangers of staying silent and handing power to a single person. Rubber Girl On The Loose presents a greater tragedy – what happens when civil conflict cannot be resolved.
Hennedige is aware of current context as extremist ideologies and xenophobia divide nations around the world and rhetoric replaces dialogue.
The myth of Antigone
Creon’s wife, Eurydice (Amy J. Cheng), who refuses to rein her husband in, even wears the buttoned-up dress favoured by United States First Lady Melania Trump.
No character is singled out for rebuke, all are complicit in the ruination. Creon wants Antigone’s acceptance, but the teen is too wrapped up in her tragedy to understand this.
It was Creon’s responsibility as the adult to make the first move towards reconciliation, but like the jerky, repeated movements of the performers at the end, all are trapped in the same rigid refusal to compromise.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.
Photo: Tuckys Photography