Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa’at’s The Optic Trilogy presents three separate acts – ‘Transparency’, ‘Brilliance’, and ‘Iridescence’ – each involving a Man (Clement Yeung) and a Woman (Manaal Mahjoub) and set on July 25th, 2001. We see in turn: a woman hiringa male escort who expects sex and is instead used as a way for her to try and puzzle out her perception of Singapore as her home; a photographer whose blind model turns out to be the woman he had an obsessive crush on as a teenager; and a woman who proposes to her deceased fiancé’s ex-boyfriend in a complicated processing of grief. Two-hander plays are tricky beasts: there’s nowhere to hide when you only have yourself and one other castmate to drive the narrative from beginning to end. Unfortunately, Yeung and Mahjoub did not overcome this challenge.
In a play so thoughtful and musing in its dialogue, a strong sense of energy and movement would have helped to offset a script more prone to musing than actual action. However, director Ada Quek seemed to have given little direction to Yeung and Mahjoub, who were fairly static in their scenes, and had little variation in their line-delivery. Aditionally, Mahjoub didn’t give much variation to her three iterations of Woman, although she seemed more comfortable on stage in the second act. In contrast, Yeung created clearer contrasts between his smooth-yet-layered male escort, nervous photographer, and the grieving gay man dating women to get over his ex-boyfriend.
That said, both actors seemed to care about the script they were putting forth, and despite the lack of movement and energy, Quek made some interesting artistic decisions. Her lighting choices in particular felt almost cinematic, with a soft-edged spotlight creating the notion of a close-up on Yeung and Mahjoub whenever their characters were physically close.
The foundational issue holding back the production seemed to be Sa’at’s script. Whilst it was occasionally funny and even thought-provoking, the writing felt awkward and disjointed. Characters seemed less like three-dimensional people and more like a mix of ideas and emotions in a flesh costume, leaving me with the feeling that The Optic Trilogy may be better suited to being read than performed.
I was so enthusiastic when I heard about The Optic Trilogy – student productions in St Andrews so often lack diverse casts, crews, and writing, so it was refreshing to see all of these things in this particular production. Whilst it may have been lacking, both cast and crew should be commended for their efforts in tackling this awkward script.