By Lisabelle Tan
L-R: Alfred Wan, Tan Zheng Jie, Grace Ng, Shien Hian, Darrell Lian, Naomi Lourdesamy
In this cast interview, The Cinnamon Roll goes behind the scenes of SOMNOGRAM, the ninth play of USP Productions. Featuring dream interpretation, eternal recurrence and parallel universes, SOMNOGRAM is a bold philosophical exploration into psychological terrains.
These six characters find themselves stranded in a college café due to a freak snowstorm in Singapore. Poised on the brink of a new year and each at turning points in their own lives, they are to confront their pasts and present moments in the face of a future that may remain imagined.
Four members of the cast; Alfred Wan, Darrell Lian, Grace Ng and Naomi Lourdesamy, share their experiences working with each other as well as remaining actors Shien Hian and Tan Zheng Jie.
Naomi and Alfred are acting as baristas Keita and Desmond respectively. Darrell plays an anonymous Teaching Assistant with students Alex (Shien) and Neve (Grace) under his wing. Reuben (Zheng Jie) is Neve’s brother.
Casting light on their characters
Alfred describes his character Desmond as very experienced at life and its nuances. “I know everything about life apparently and especially about this parallel universe thing. I got it all figured out. I transcend this thing. I’m basically a very chill character.”
Unlike Desmond, Neve and Alex are still in the process of figuring things out. Grace said, “Neve and Alex are investigating the nature of reality. Neve is looking at eternal recurrence where there is no afterlife, everything occurs again and again. Alex is investigating the nature of dreams and whether dreams can affect the future”.
Q: How much do you share in common with your character?
Alfred: “I am playing a totally different character. The character is too chill. I am not very chill usually so it is quite different to play. And it is the first time I am playing a not very energetic character as well.”
Naomi: “Fashion sense maybe. Boots, jeans and earcuffs.”
Darrell: “I think I have some points of similarity – there are times when I can be quite tired and serious and I guess emotional. But I’ve never been a TA and I don’t think I have as many emotional issues as my character. I hope.”
Grace: “For me it is actually freakishly similar. For one thing we both wear headphones all the time. And actually in some ways the personality is quite similar as well. So when I was reading the play I thought it was very uncanny. So I thought maybe I should do it. Maybe I should just try. So I thought it would make it easy, but it’s not. The points of difference are the most challenging because you have to figure out how to find those points of difference and make it more interesting.”
Q. Tell me about the most interesting, craziest or wackiest moment during rehearsals
Naomi: “When everyone started rehearsing in Chinese.”
Grace: “That was SO good.”
Darrell: “To be precise, there was a scene with me and Shien. And then we had this exchange between teaching assistant and student. And we did it in Mandarin. It was quite interesting.”
Grace: “Zhengjie was kind of hitting a block with his character, but with one particular scene, he did the scene in Chinese and it was amazing. And so Denise told him to do the line in Chinese then do the English – the line was wonderful.”
Q. How has acting with the others been?
Grace: “I think everyone is really good.”
Alfred: “It is nice because this production is the first in a long while that we get people who have acted before acting in the production.” In their freshman year, Alfred and Darrell acted together in a USProduction. As final year students, SOMNOGRAM may be their swan song.
Naomi: “But I think that is quite good. You get to learn from each other, you get to see what each other is doing, and it makes you want to improve.”
Q. Why should people come to watch SOMNOGRAM?
Grace: “Ah…intellectual exercise.”
Alfred: “It really is an intellectual exercise”
Darrell: “I would say that there are certain philosophical themes covered in our play which are quite interesting. So there’s that. And it is also interesting because plot wise there are a lot of puzzles to work out which involve the characters and their motivations. So I think it would be quite engaging to see how it all plays out. I would say that the initial setting is quite intriguing – with a snowstorm and in a Starbucks in Singapore. So that’s our engaging premise and I think people want to see what happens in such a mix of elements.”
Alfred: “I agree. This is really a very elemental play” *all breaks up in chuckles*
Alfred: “It could go both ways for this play. You could use a lot of props to bring out what we need – because this play is really that complex you need a lot of effects. It is also very dependent on the actors’ acting and the nuance, because by virtue of the subject, the themes we explore, it is difficult for the actors and it is difficult for the sets people. The sets people are working very hard.”
Grace: “It is a technically challenging play.”
Naomi: “But I also feel that even though it is technical it still has the heart. Like you can still relate to the characters, you can enjoy their struggles.”
Darrell: “Another thing is that all six of us have very different colors, and it is very nice to see all these different characters.”
Written and directed by Denise Khng, co-directed by Dorothy So and produced by Hannah Tay and James Edgar Lim, SOMNOGRAM will be staged at the DBS Arts Centre – Home of Singapore Repertory Theatre next week, on 23 and 24 January 2015.
Click here to check the schedule and book your tickets.