All aboard “The Utama Spaceship”

The Utama Spaceship Incident Report #000291

Reported by: P Tobin

Title/Role: Passenger G328β

Date of Report: 14012020

Location: Space, 59³ light years away from Alpha Centauri

Type of Security Incident: Unauthorised ship repair attempt.

→ A plunger over an air hole.

Explanation of event/circumstances: Two intrepid explorers Lee Shu Yu and Eugene Koh are leading The Utama Spaceship to boldly go where no Singaporean has gone before – the distant planet of Alpha Centauri. It takes ten years to reach their destination. They past their time by playing space invaders, watching movies, performing light ship repairs, and most of all, by telling stories.

The very name of the spaceship draws from Sang Nila Utama and “utama” meaning the first, the most important one. The duo retell the founding of Singapura over and over again while onboard the ship, each retelling (perhaps) further from and more outlandish than the myth. It is quite a romantic notion to tell and retell a mythical story about exploration while on a spaceship. The Utama Spaceship attempts to show that if we try to understand our past, then we can understand what makes us, our present and our future.

Creators Shu Yu and Eugene of The Spacebar Theatre are very likeable, playful and expressive performers. They command a strong stage presence, inviting the audience into their intergalactic odyssey. They have great comedic timing, able to bounce off jokes seamlessly off each other. Their use of slapstick, like moving in slow-motion across the low-lit bare stage to mimic a spacewalk, is creative and just plain funny.

Best of all, the pair utilises low-tech elements for a sci-fi show, which makes for an endearingly charming performance. A large screen behind them makes for a spaceship dashboard, or a live projection of them sending video messages back home. Their model of the spaceship comprises of recycled materials: plastic spoons, bottles and an aluminium Royce chocolate bag. The Utama Spaceship is reminiscent of a low-budget B-movie or early Doctor Who; a cult show in the making.

The Utama Spaceship reminds us that Singaporeans, like all other humans, are naturally curious, and have always been drawn to space. Not just with grand astronomers or famous astronauts and cosmonauts, but boiling down to simpler notions like how your Instagram feed was flooded with the recent “ring of fire” eclipse (astrology memes do not count). This is what The Utama Spaceship perfectly encapsulates: Singapore is a small island-nation but is also inevitably part of a greater universe. We look outside to look within.

Resulting action executed, planned or recommended: The Utama Spaceship is zany, funny, and scrappy -— emblematic of the uncapped energy only found in an interstellar debut Fringe show.

→ All systems go.

This review is based on the performance on 14 January 2020. Part of the M1 Fringe Festival, The Utama Spaceship ran from 14-15 January 2020 at NAFA Studio Theatre.

Photo credit: Brandon Koh

Recommended listen: ArtsEquator podcast 73 Spacebar Theatre

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