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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spotting Differences and Celebrating Commonalities - A Review of the I Theatre Production "Spot the Difference"

A review of the I Theatre production, “Spot the Difference” written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based website that provides information and updates on the best of Singapore for families with young children.

There are ten differences between these two pictures. See how many you can find.” Just like the picture puzzles we are all familiar with from our childhood, “Spot the Difference” proved irresistible to its young audience, leaving them spotting the differences between the characters, and, as a result, themselves, all the way to the closing scene. 

The plot is a simple one, actually. Scene One opens with two neighbours searching for a new home - the bubbly and vivacious Soo, and the straight-laced and proper Vik. The former settles into a home “all curvy and swervy and topsy-turvy, my home sweet home”, while the latter determinedly moves into his home made of squares and straight lines, because “straight lines guide you upon a straight path!” 
"All curvy and swervy and topsy-turvy."
They are opposites in every way - Soo is like the swirly letters in her name, a carefree and loveable character who delights in the spontaneous and sees beauty in a bit of chaos; Vik values angles and straight lines, and finds great satisfaction in order and tidiness. Put them together and it’s a sure recipe for disaster, especially when you add the gregarious and larger-than-life “Ziggedy” into the equation, who thinks that life is boring when you look at it from only one perspective, and decides to stir up things between the two just for fun. The tension builds to a rousing climax where Vik and Soo find that it takes a combination of both circles and squares, straight lines and curves, to defeat the mischievous Ziggedy, and the play ends with a surprising compromise and a home for their newfound friend.
"Straight lines guide you along a straight path."
It was indeed the stark contrasts between the characters which made the production so engaging, and in this regard, Director Isabella Chiam has achieved her goal of letting the characters’ personalities take centre-stage. The casting was excellent and gave rise to clear differences between the characters whom all were able to relate to. The children in the audience were overheard asking one another which they preferred, “Vik or Soo? I like Soo!” It certainly sparked a healthy ongoing debate throughout the length of the play on who they liked more, and I am sure that for the adults, the contrasts between the two proved all too familiar.

There were so many elements that would appeal to a younger audience; the carnivalesque atmosphere with candy-floss coloured costumes which sparked the imagination, the clever use of familiar props like colourful bean bags, exercise balls and boxes, and a stage set with clean visual lines so that the re-arrangement of the various props on it was almost like the altering of various elements of art on canvas in order to tell the story. 

Audience engagement was present throughout, from getting the children to identify the straight lines and curves in the characters’ names, to helping Vik and Soo find and catch the elusive Ziggedy. Parents will also appreciate the themes that come through clearly: diversity and acceptance, tolerance and graciousness, forgiveness and compromise, all great material for further discussion. It is interesting to see how Vik and Soo have different ways of interacting with their environment, and how neither is wrong, but just different. Indeed food for thought for us grown-ups in the audience!

The characters speak in gentle rhymes, and different genres of music are used effectively by Julian Wong to further accentuate differences in personality - sweet, lilting tunes for Soo and rousing classical music for Vik, while Ziggedy grooves to a Reggae beat. 

It was the perfect combination of circles and squares, straight lines and swirly curls, order and mayhem, and comic elements and serious themes which I really appreciated in Brian Seward’s script. “Spot the Difference” was unique in not just highlighting the differences between the various personalities, but in helping us all to see that once the differences seem to converge, we are all really not that different after all. This is a play definitely worth thinking about.

"Spot the Difference" is part of the ACE! Festival 2014, and is running from now to 31 May.

Photos of the play can be found at the Little Day Out website. You can read our Behind the Scenes interview with "Spot the Difference" Director Isabella Chiam here.

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