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When A Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched

This year’s Singapore Arts Festival, with the theme of ‘I Want to Remember’, alludes to the lingering influence of history and memory. Time is stretched out as an unbreakable thread in which past, present and future are necessarily considered in relation to each other. This was demonstrated in the Japanese play, When A Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched, which kick-started the festival.

I must confess that I had no idea what to expect from the performance. Founded in 1970 and helmed by writer/director Yukichi Matsumoto, this is the first time that the Osaka-based Ishinha company is venturing outside of Japan and bringing their performance to the rest of the world.

Ishinha is notoriously known for staging performances at unexpected venues. And this time, the company has transformed the Esplanade Park into a massive outdoor theatre, complete with numerous stages representing islands that were jointly built by the actors themselves. If the stage settings were indication enough, I was certain that I would be treated to a magnificent and meticulously planned performance; and I couldn’t be more right.

When A Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched is centered about the topic of migration and leaving — each character tells a different story about the process of uprooting and leaving home. Set in an imaginary ‘Sea Road’, each character passes through with a unique story to tell in twelve chapters. They share only one thing in common: which is that they are all travelers. The usage of subtitles, which are conveyed on a screen set on the stage, adds to the concept of alienation; and the audience is made acutely aware of the untouchable gulf in which the characters reside.

The director’s painstaking attention to detail is evident. Backdrops are changed frequently and the usage of props such as boats and suitcases all contribute towards the sense of transience that permeates the play. Each choreographed movement is timed to perfection and the use of vernacular tinged with unconventional rap and opera also adds a greater degree of authenticity. One of the acts even featured a 4-metre tall man on stilts!

The quality of the production was undisputable, and it is small wonder that they stage only one or two performances per year. It promises to delight theatre junkies and newer patrons alike, and sets the tone for the rest of the Festival, which will run from 13 May to 5 June. During this time, the Esplanade Park will also double as the Festival Village, where you can expect to catch similarly interesting events and interactive programs. Now, who says Singapore is boring?

– Yishu

For more info, visit Singapore Arts Festival’s official website @ www.singaporeartsfest.com

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