Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dream Academy's Henderson Project - the Last Five Years

This run of Jason Robert Brown's off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years and Robin Goh's concert Happy Robin marks the start of Dream Academy's The Henderson Project, an initiative to convert their studio into a proper performance venue. I was told that a thorough refurbishment had taken place just for the occasion, with lighting, seats and a better looking exterior installed. The results, once you've found your way there, are quite impressive, resembling a nightclub atmosphere where food, drinks and booze are sold and can be consumed in the theatre mid show.

The company's trademark cabaret/comedy acts not withstanding, The Last Five Years is perhaps the ideal piece for this intimate, informal space, a small-scale musical that only calls for two actors and a five piece band (violin, cello, guitar, bass guitar and piano).

Through a series of songs, each character tells his/her side of a 5-year long relationship that was torn apart due to career pressures; pretty standard as far as plots go except that Cathy, the female protagonist, tells hers in reverse chronological order starting from their last day, while Jamie, the male character, enacts his side of the story in the usual order.

And so each actor takes turns to sing a solo song, essentially musical monologues directed at each other but never actually interacting save for one very touching moment. As one sings of the bliss of falling in love, another sings a torch ballad of heartbreak.

As schizophrenic as it seems, it does make for a very affecting piece of theatre even if it takes a lot of guessing on the audience's part. As we witness a serious relationship in its first and last stages all at once, we can't help but be drawn in by this strange bittersweet moment.

Director Jasmine Teo has produced a show that is spare in sets but rich in emotions. Observing in the small space of the Dream Academy studio, we are sitting literally at spitting distance from the performers, watching with unusual closeness. it's the rare occasion where we can make actual eye contact with the actors. Sets are spare with only a few boxes and hung portraits of the two characters in loving bliss.

Linden Furnell and Mina Kaye portrayed their roles with heartfelt intimacy. Furnell's first song seem to be on the low side as he struggled with many low notes, but the rest of the music suited him fine and the voice was powerful where it mattered. Kaye crooned, belted and chirped with seemingly effortless ease. Both actors perform with heartfelt commitment in their acting and incredibly detailed singing, investing great energy in the action and sharing great chemistry with each other despite the disjointed way of storytelling.

In all, it was worth the trip down to Henderson (a 15 minute walk from Tiong Bahru MRT, though I'm sure there's a bus). Helpful ushers and signs are stationed around the building to make sure you find your way inside the theatre once you get there. Robin Goh performs at 10pm after the actors bow at 9:30, enough time to mingle and get a few drinks before settling down for the lounge act. Improbable that a fun weekend could be had at an industrial estate? give it a try and you might be surprised!

The Henderson Project runs til this coming Sunday (9 Feb) and then again next week Thursday (13 Feb) till Saturday (15 Feb) 203 Henderson Road, Henderson Industrial Park. #02-01( lift lobby A). Download the brochure below for details:

P.S. Linden performs a scene in his undies. get centre seats or those on the left if that's your thing ;-)

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