Before the lights dim, the stage is set with large white boxes shaped like hardcover books, cleverly disguised to store various props and costumes as the show progresses. A rectangular-shaped chandelier with sheets hangs from the ceiling.
Off-white tones bathe the stage gloomily, and the chatter from the audience interrupts the silence. An ominous but mellow piano track fills the void of a now forcibly quarter-filled theatre. It is hauntingly magical, yet bleak.
“Believe it or not, but we’re sold out tonight,” says Gaurav Kripalani, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) Artistic Director, before the show begins. Our journey to discover the hidden meanings behind The Sound Inside starts here.
Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside is perhaps one of the more apt productions to begin this year’s new season. The pandemic took away our yearning for human connection and replaced it with solitude and quarantine.
The Sound Inside discusses this throughout the play. It also features key themes such as unique friendships blossoming from unlikely individuals, who are uncannily similar, yet so separated by their conflicting values and experiences.
The play is told through the eyes of Bella Bird, a brilliant writer who teaches Creative Writing at Yale University. She develops a strange but profoundly moving connection with her student, Christopher John. Bella’s battle with cancer is also revealed at various points in the play.
The Sound Inside captures the lives of two writers who are stuck in their own isolated bubbles. Yet, they somehow manage to find themselves amidst their own darkness, obsession with literature and storytelling as well as how fleeting emotions can be.
Bella and Christopher are neither colleagues nor lovers. They are hardly friends. But their connection between each other is rare and transient. It strikes me as an intimacy that could not be revealed openly to the outside world as not everyone would understand it.
Directed by Cherilyn Woo, a resident directing alum of SRT, her poetic portrait of Rapp’s story teaches us that human connections can be powerful if we let ourselves be open to them.
“The key theme for us was really about human connection, and how unique and special the connection was between the two characters. It’s an unexpected dynamic, but it’s so relatable at the same time. The relationship between two people, whether it be family, friends, professional or romantic, is complex. It’s never straight forward. For us, it was really about creating that world of what connection felt, looked and sounded like. Since the piece is told through Bella’s perspective, it’s very much exploring the journey of meeting Christopher through her eyes, thereby inviting the audience into her world.” says Cherilyn, who divulges on her creative vision for The Sound Inside.
Theatre veteran Serene Chen (Bella Bird) and freelance actor Krish Natarajan (Christopher John) explain that their characters’ dynamic is built on the pure texture of silence. They also reveal that the fine lines of their characters’ interactions give the audience much to unpack.
“Without giving too much away, I would say it’s the layers and complexities of this unlikely human connection that need to be scrutinised and questioned that makes it so difficult to play out. Really understanding the characters deeply first and realising how their own dispositions play on this connection that they form,” elaborated Krish.
Serene also chimed in on her character’s experience, saying, “She lacks and craves curiosity from the outside world, which is so necessary in boosting her life force, giving her inspiration to tell the stories she does.”
The cast and crew have not taken inspiration from past stagings of the production. Consequently, the layers of nuance and complexities found within the script’s lines were a challenge for the design team.
Though it’s been just over a year, Singapore’s local arts scene has only recently been allowed to return to the spotlight. Despite contributing to our budding arts industry for over 27 years, SRT is no stranger to the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With an uncertain future for the 2021/2022 productions, SRT hopes to inspire audience members and theatre-lovers to consider becoming a Friend of SRT. This is in hopes of being able to continue creating inspirational theatre work in Singapore while also employing a variety of freelancers and educating budding theatre practitioners and artists.
In conclusion, The Sound Inside is definitely a show for those who enjoy thought-provoking works of art. I found it to be deeply moving. Through the poignant though subtle moments of the play, there was always a tinge of sympathy and worry for the characters, which would bubble up in my chest, but never enough to evoke tears. Perhaps, one would have to truly understand the meaning of human connection and the beauty of storytelling to more accurately interpret the hidden meanings of this play.
Till then, how can we draw the line between fiction and reality? Who are the ones really creating our worlds?
The Sound Inside
- Dates: 10 March to 16 April
- Mon – Thu (Stall Seating – $60, Circle Seating – $55): 6pm, 9pm
- Fri – Sat (Stall Seating – $65, Circle Seating – $60): 6pm, 9pm
- Venue: KC Arts Centre – Home of SRT (20 Merbau Rd, Singapore 239035)
- Duration: 90 minutes
To book tickets and learn more, check out their official page!
*Tickets exclude booking fee.
Visuals courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre.