Humanity may be under threat, the end of the world might well be nigh. That’s the premise for Attempts: Singapore, an immersive performance where the audience is cast in the role of the researcher-scientists who must find the destructive anomaly in the computer system of ARC, a multinational conglomerate. The anomaly takes the form of the fragmented memories of a woman called Anne. Our task is to find out who Anne is before she wreaks havoc and the computer system, J.O.A.N., shuts down. In theory, the stakes couldn’t be higher; but can the reality of Rei Poh’s immersive production live up to our expectations?
We are divided into two teams. I join Team A for this guided performance experience that draws inspiration from Martin Crimp’s 1997 play Attempts on Her Life. There is evidence of Anne everywhere, but she remains tantalisingly elusive. We sift through rooms to find proof of her life. In the first room, I quickly wonder if I am being guided or distracted by the many objects and glass bottles filled with skin and human-hair. As I look through a collection of syringes and surgical masks, I firmly decide not to take the lead in this dramatic venture. The teenagers in my group are equally determined to follow the evidence. These young detectives feverishly read all medical reports and question J.O.A.N. about Anne. Nonetheless, it’s still like looking for a needle in a haystack. Tension and pressure build shortly after, accompanied by the harsh tic-tock sound of the metronome. Time is pressing in the quest to discover Anne, but I feel bored and unimpressed by the request to resolve the mystery.
In the same room, I see a beautiful, pungent and sensual dance solo on a chair – a manifestation of the iconic Singapore girl. In another moment, Julie Wee, teary eyed, sews her hand with thread. These ‘characters’ are Anne’s memories, vividly realised by each cast member.
In the second room, there is more evidence and artifacts relating to Anne’s life: lingerie spread out on the bed, a pile of old clothes on the floor. It feels as though somebody has just left the room.
Immersive Theatre should make you feel as if you have been parachuted into a new reality, but this parachute fails to open. According to the programme, this is, ‘an immersive experience’ but the fragmented nature of the narrative and the feeling it doesn’t much matter whether we solve the clues or not makes it all too easy to disengage. I struggle to believe I am fighting a corporation in this high-tech-wannabe low-budget production. Plastic curtains split the rooms into headquarters, lab and bedroom, but it looks sleazy, not corporate. It’s clear we are in a mouldy old basement and not in a research facility fighting corporate greed and world domination.
Teams swap rooms half-way through the evening, and the performers do an excellent job of impersonating researchers and scientists. The specificity of the clues can be problematic if you find yourself reading an old letter that leads you nowhere. I feel in limbo, constantly awaiting the right instructions.
The premise of the show is to engage the audience as investigators, but for those like me, who struggle to believe in the story, it is hard to feel engrossed or believe that our quest really matters. One of the fascinating but maybe unintended consequences is how Attempts: Singapore sheds light on human behaviour. In this situation, the group response is divided between the ones solving the investigation, and those who are watching more passively and remain less involved.