Terry (left) andTheCuz in action (© Nafise Motlag)

Terry (left) andTheCuz in action (© Nafise Motlag)

According to TerryandTheCuz

“The characters are fleshed out, the plot is developed. Even Jo Kukathas would be pleased.”

So goes one of the lines in The Bee Project, a collaborative site-specific theatre production by TerryandTheCuz; co-designed with Australian-based The Rubix Cube and co-written with Martin Blum. A simple glance shows this is a male-dominated team, and this production draws much from the realm of straight male fantasies and shoot-em-ups (feminists be warned).

The premise of the show seemed simple enough: step into The Bee cafe at Publika for a meal, while a whodunit play takes place around you.

Opening Sequence: Bang Bang

Warning placards on the tables warn diners of coarse language, high-level violence, simulated sex, and that they may be required to move during the show. After dinner ends, pre-show announcements are made. The play begins — with nothing.

For about a minute, patrons look around, seeking significance amidst the deliberate inaction. A shout — we turn in time to see our supposed waiters in action: Oliver Johanan flings a glass of water into Shirin Jauhari’s face. There is tension as she leaves the room.

We hear her angry shriek coming from the distant washroom. Shirin returns, points the tip of a samurai sword at Oliver. Seated smack in the middle of The Bee, I spent the scene wondering how I should react as the sword hovered inches before me. Ryan Lee Baskharan, another waiter, morphs into a policeman and orders her to drop the sword. Shirin reluctantly complies, and as Nancy Sinatra’s song Bang Bang starts to play, she somehow ends up performing a sexy dance in front of The Cuz (of the duo TerryandTheCuz). She seems to be dancing to his telepathic command.

Terence Conrad (Terry) rushes in. He is late for a meeting with The Cuz. He apologises, averts blame and requests a menu from his waiter, Ryan. The Cuz now has to deal with Terry, and the spell is broken — our actors resume waiting tables. The Kill Bill fantasy is over.

The Plot

And here we are introduced to what really makes the play fascinating. Terry and The Cuz have an hour to whip a script into shape, before they meet potential backers with their idea — they want to bring their vision to Hollywood. Everything we see in The Bee Project is unfolding around us according to their ideas and writing.

Of course, the script is problematic. It is a monstrosity of plagiarised lines, film geekery and misplaced ideals: auteur-driven Terry wants a respectable arthouse film, and the The Cuz is all Hollywood Blockbuster — tits, guns and action. Everytime Terry lets his guard down, or blinks, The Cuz fills the script with morally dubious ideas.

As both writers negotiate what their characters should say, actors obediently play out each scenario. The characters rewind and replay according to the various visions, oblivious to the fact that their fate is controlled by two men seated at the next table.

(picture courtesy of Terence Conrad)

Cafe catfight: Datin Saras (right: played by Sandra Sodhy) challenges Charity (Jerrica Lai): “Suck my tits!” (© Nafise Motlag)

The Cuz’s influence is strong, and his repertoire limited. His lines for women do not bother to rise above provocation. A line for an enraged Datin to her nemesis varies between “It’s ON, BITCH!” and “Suck my tits!”

The Winner Dictates

“It’s all about putting dignity and intelligence back into the mainstream.”

Terry tries to exert his auteur influence. As we laugh, he implores to The Cuz “It’s all about putting dignity and intelligence back into the mainstream.”

In fact, at one point both creators discuss having their drunken character Alan Jason piss on all the female patrons of the cafe.
Dutifully, Clarence Kuna plays the inebriated character to great comical effect. He stomps onto a table, pulls out his belt, and fumbles with his zip to the restrained uncertainty of the four female patrons he hovers above. Terry reins in The Cuz’s excessiveness in the nick of time (before the zip comes down).

TheBeeProject_2

Ariff Faisal as Abraham sings his love from tabletops for Charity Ho (© Nafise Motlag)

We never really see Terry’s vision — like everything he wants of the film, it’s only pleaded for, but never takes centrestage. Even his vision for Dato’s son Abraham (to be gently played by an understated Ariff Faisal) is shortlived. The Cuz hijacks the idea, and we see the entire scene redone. Abraham is now a commanding, testosterone-charged “white man”, dramatically ripping his shirt off and being more macho and over the top than before. The experience is comparable to watching US and UK music videos for the same song: The Cuz’s American-blockbuster-influenced version has no subtlety, but is immediately entertaining and attention-grabbing.

And there lies The Cuz’s advantage over Terry. His vision works in Hollywood. Audiences will choose a Die Hard sequel over a film where the audience can only (to paraphrase) “feel the presence of hidden tits and guns that never actually appear.”

The Cuz's "Hollywood" version of Abraham and Charity: A histrionic, topless white man (played by an unnamed actor) and Charity, now no longer wearing the top half of her wedding dress (© TerryandTheCuz)

The Cuz’s “Hollywood” version of Abraham and Charity: A histrionic, topless white man (played by co-director and co-actor Martin Blum) and Charity, now no longer wearing the top half of her wedding dress (© Nafise Motlag)

The Cuz reiterates that he not only wants tits and guns in a murder mystery — but he wants them in your face, lit up like a Christmas tree. With ten minutes left to their meeting, The Cuz takes charge.

Rocking On Hard…

The Cuz grabs the mic and gets onstage. With a waving Malaysian flag as his backdrop, The Cuz dramatically narrates an outlandish story that almost (but never) spirals out of control before us. It is Cuz’s masterpiece: a murder conspiracy fuelled with bigger guns, unnecessary sex (or otherwise, depending on which half of TerryAndTheCuz you agree with), binge-drinking drunken angst, cheap comedy and sociopathic sexy women. The center of the cafe is cleared of furniture, a rock band emerges, awful Michael Jackson impersonators are wheeled from one end of the room to the other, and cafe patrons peel away from the audience to emerge as  part of the production.

And to prove The Cuz right, the audience loves The Cuz’s spectacular vision, totally unhindered by rationale or plot.

The Cast

Part of what worked about The Bee Project was that they packed the story with so many subplots, and the cafe with surprise accomplices. The trailer had featured Davina Goh and Anne James fighting in a cafe — neither appear in the play.

They are, however, the actors in Klue, Doh! the previous production by TerryandTheCuz and The Rubix Cube. Klue, Doh!‘s characters (and plot) are reused here, but now we see the creative process for it celebrated in The Bee Project. Terence clarified after the play that 80% of the interaction we see between Terry and The Cuz in The Bee Project reflects their writing process for Klue, Doh!. The duo have similar humour and differences in writing styles compared to their characters, and this dynamic translates well as a performance.

(© Nafise Motlag)

Ryan Bhaskaran plays a policeman shooting down the murderous Gangbang, a murderous Indonesian played by Shirin Jauhari. Gangbang is (clearly) named by The Cuz, and is pronounced with an Indonesian accent — “GungBhung”, sorta. (© Nafise Motlag)

The cast works beautifully together; the cliches are entertaining; it doesn’t really matter that the sound system is occasionally quite awful or that some of the musicians don’t seem ready for a professional production yet. And yes, it raises suspicions to have Ryan Bhaskaran serving coffee (he was awarded Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Air Con in Cammies Awards 2008), but many more I didn’t recognise were waiting in the sidelines to sing, dance and act. By the time the dancing flashmob breaks out at the end of the play, one is left wondering — Who isn’t involved in the show?

And that’s the beauty of it. Sitting in the middle, awkwardly avoiding the hilarious shenanigans of the play around you, others watching how you react  — you are involved. No one is spared. This show may be sold as an exercise in voyuerism, but the experience is what makes the night.

As their warning placard goes: “the greatest trick TerryandTheCuz ever pulled was convincing the world to see The Bee Project.”

Judging by some of the confused responses on Facebook to the intentionally vague trailer, you’ll know there’s some truth to it:

Thebeeproject-screenshot

It’s one heck of a trick indeed, but not one as elaborate or successful as pulling off The Bee Project itself.

With audiences learning to expect new theatre experiences conceived by TerryandTheCuz and The Rubix Cube, what will we see next? According to Terry, this includes two new shows and a radio drama on BFM: The Business Station. As for Klue,Doh! and The Bee Project, both are currently being adapted for audiences in Singapore (end of 2013) and Australia (2014).

Will their new show be intellectual? Brash and gimmicky? Will it thrive off the collision of two vastly different approaches? Whatever it is, we look forward to being tricked into their next big idea.


Disclaimer: The Bee Project is partially funded as a result of the The Backers Audition organised by Kakiseni. (We didn’t have anything else to do with this production though!)