It starts with a policeman, panicked at having missed the chance to arrest an international criminal, devising a plan with his fellow officer to tell his chief that the culprit grew wings and flew away.
So begins ‘Wanted’, an entertainingly absurd production of the Cambodian contemporary theatre group Nouveau, which was shown over the weekend at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Cambodia Japan Cooperation Centre.
The play quickly moves back and forth between the classical and the contemporary, incorporating both period dress and a novel method of audience participation in a quirky hybrid of performance art styles.
Nouveau’s latest work revolves around a woman escaping to a foreign country after being accused of murdering her husband, who is later revealed to have accidentally choked on a Chinese cake. Her stepdaughter, bearing a grudge, publicly accuses her of the murder and the woman is forced to flee.
“The girl hates her stepmother,” says Im Kimsuor, the play’s producer and director. “She is vengeful. When her father chokes, she takes the opportunity to avenge her step mother. I think the play educates us to avoid using our emotions to judge people, that it’s better to rely on real evidence,” she said.
Im Kimsuor says she wanted to present a synthesis of different modes of performance as part of her broader efforts in working towards a rejuvenation of Cambodian theatre.
“I lived in Japan for 20 years and I came back here two years ago. At the time, I saw that Cambodian theatre was on the brink of death. Some artists had left performing arts to pursue a different career,” she says.
As a result, Im Kimsuor has made a concerted effort to showcase performing arts in the country, even paying actors and venues out of her own pocket in order to stage performances for free.
‘Wanted’ is her fourth production since her return to Cambodia.
Roth Chansopheareth, 24, who was one of the 300 members of Saturday night’s audience, said she was befuddled by the quick transitions, but highly enjoyed the performance all the same.
“It was hard for me to understand what they wanted to show to us at the beginning. But I liked watching it because the performance was funny in a way that I’ve never seen before,” she said.
“They let the audience interact directly with the performers. In a scene about an upset girl, they displayed her phone number on the stage and asked the audience to call her and make her happy again. A lot of the audience competed with each other to try and call her. It was so funny!”
Im Kimsuor says she hopes the positive audience reaction to the weekend’s performances will help lead to future stagings by Nouveau.
“We’ve made more people interested in our work now,” she said. “When they like our play, they will hopefully pay to watch our future shows. Then we’ll have the means to produce more theatre, and we can also preserve our current work for the future.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at [email protected]