by Megha Bhattacharya
The Theatre Practice is breaking all norms of art form (if one can even have norms in art) with their newest production of The Bride Always Knocks Twice. The constrictions of the pandemic and heightened alert created a creative hybrid model of interactive theatre: a multi-platform murder mystery.
The Practice’s Artistic Director Kuo Jian Hong joins hands with playwrights Jonathan Lim and Liu Xiaoyi, filmmaker Kat Goh, art director James Page, and film score producer Joe Ng to create an innovative, one-of-a-kind experience for any crime thriller theatre enthusiast.
With a fantastical premise where eight women from different eras and walks of life live together in a house that defies rules of time and space, we get embroiled in a story where sisterhood turns sinister when one of them is found murdered. The entire multilingual experience is broken down into four parts with each presented on a different platform.
The first chapter “Conflicts” is shot as a movie, with a stellar cast of eight iconic women and their interactions, idiosyncrasies, and background stories, streamed live. Leveraging the power of the interactive platform, the second chapter “Lies” gives you a first hand experience at interrogating your suspects live. “Crime Scene”, the third chapter, presents all the case files and a virtual tour of the actual crime scene. And the final chapter “Revelations” unmasks the true murderer through a live stream but not without providing an opportunity for the audience to submit their own scrutinised hypothesis.
I was admittedly excited about this production as it was bringing together two of my favourite forms of entertainment: Murder Mystery and Theatre! The production quality of the website was top notch, though the UI of the experience could be more user friendly – not a deal breaker once you go through a guide of the platform.
Chapter 1 was not very different from a typical movie on an OTT platform, but being a multilingual screenplay, one had to watch the subtitles more intently which made you lose out on some of the wonderful acting of the talented cast. I’d consider watching an on-demand version to augment the experience.
Chapter 2 was engaging and gave a first-hand view of how it is to be an investigator questioning the suspects. My favourite was Chapter 3 which gave me access to a virtual crime scene and case files, allowing me to pour into the case at my leisure while placing myself right in the centre of this whodunit. Even though I couldn’t solve the case, I was waiting with bated breath to watch the ending.
And then came the 4th Chapter and it blew my mind with the unexpected twist – it was a satisfying end with an open-ended thread about the Police, making me wonder if the Bride will knock a third time!
The women behind the show
What was most refreshing to see in this production is a story representing Singaporean women of each era without “victimising” or judging them – portraying them as shades of grey rather than black or white. Suhaili Safari, who played the role of the Concubine Sultan Iskandar Shah, shares that she observes several parallels between these characters and “modern day women,” like how they navigated typically male roles like warriors, soldiers, labourers defining their own brand of feminism within their boundaries; adapting with the times when patriarchy became dominant with westernisation of the colonies.
Echoing that sentiment, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, who played a soldier from the Rani of Jhansi regiment, points out that “even though at first glance (her character feels) different from the modern day women – often speaking in prose and bearing the weight of a war that seems to set her out of time – at her core is someone who desires acceptance and redemption, which is something we can all relate to.”
Behind the scenes
The experience of putting together a multi-platform show of this size was a daunting task even if the restrictions of the pandemic world didn’t exist. With more platforms, the technical challenges of each get compounded while also making sure the artists adapt from a theatre format both from a technical and a storyline perspective making sure they “switch gears and focus on pulling back, not revealing too much, or plant clues in (their) characters that will heighten the audiences’ curiosities in a small visual frame,” reflects Suhaili.
All in all, this is a fulfilling artistic endeavor that allows the audience the joy of watching a mystery unravel, but also play a part in the unraveling almost as though you’re a part of the story. Rebekah sums it up beautifully: “The fact that this show exists in this form is a testament to artistic resilience – and theatre-making – during and in spite of a global pandemic.”