Printable CopyBALING
Nexus Cabaret
Until 02 Nov 2018

Review by Kylie Pedler

On December 28, 1955, in a small classroom in Malaya, three national leaders held a highly publicised meeting that aimed to end seven years of war. The transcript from this political debate which became know as the ‘Baling talks’, comes to life in this documentary style production where the audience becomes an involuntary participant.

From the moment you enter the performance space it is evident that this is not a regular theatre experience. Photos and propaganda articles are suspended from the ceiling. The transcript of the ‘Baling talks’ create a document wall and political history books form a map of Malaya, the country at the forefront of the soon-to-be-revealed conflict. There is no beginning and no end. Being an audience member is at times uncomfortable, as they not only physically shift from one space to another but are expected to sit on the floor for nearly two hours.

The production is divided into timed sessions, indicated on a projector. At each reading of the transcript, audiences are invited to consider different perspectives; viewing the performance from different points and watching the performers interchangeably read the different transcripts of the negotiators. While potentially, the change of roles is to alleviate any political connections between the performers and the leaders represented, the use of only a hat to signify this change is a little inadequate.

Multimedia projections including documentary footage, interviews and political and personal photos support and interpret the dialogue. Interjected between readings of the transcripts, are narratives in which the performers share their personal stories and connections with Malaya’s history. These worked well to break up the dense, confusing transcripts while providing a much needed background context.

Politics, loyalty, sacrifice, freedom and ideology: identified, framed and left to question. While this play presents conflicting political views from a moment in history, no conclusions are made only provocations to question the truth and an ongoing contemporary continuation.

While the content is heavy and the production style and space won’t suit everyone, Five Arts Theatre should be commended for their high quality performers and cutting edge, contemporary style.