Christina Sergeant 1955 - 2013
Tina’s sudden passing on the 17th February 2013 was a devastating loss to her family and to Singapore’s theatre community.
She was my best friend for 30 years, my best man(!) at my wedding, and my performance partner and collaborator from the days we first began creating comedy together as Phizzog Mask Theatre in 1983.
She had cold-called me to say she had just arrived in Singapore (with Kwee, her husband) and she’d heard that I was 'into Masks' and as she had trained as a mime (at the Marcel Marceau school) she was keen to meet up. She came to UWC one afternoon and we danced around chatting for a while until I brought out some masks, a mix of the full and the half masks . . . and we started to play.
A couple of our most popular pieces - the Blind Date, the Wake - were first improvised at that first session. For all that she said she was a mime, she also took to the commedia-inspired half-masks with effortless invention, a zany creator of character and quick-witted quipping. Excited and happy, she was the one who chased up our first gig, performing in the Bistro Tanglin Shopping Centre.
Phizzog Mask Theatre created topical comedy that was often gently satirical of the politics of the time - a favourite of ours was The FIO - the Flush Inspection Office, which was prompted by the government's desire to inculcate cleaner toilets by employing guardians of WC decency. Tina wondered what sort of man would apply to be an FIO (it's we men who make the mess, right?) and I wondered how the process of inspecting would actually work . . and what the penalty might be?!
She was wonderful actress with the most astonishing range: she could play fearsomely powerful high status characters, then switch on an instant into the most incompetent and appealing clown. I cast her as Truffaldino (a version of Arlecchino) in my 1984 Drama Festival production of The Servant of Two Masters, which she aced with great energy and comic timing.
Our roles were reversed when she cast me as the goddamm Sheriff in STARS The Best Little *House in Texas. (This was 1985 and we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘Whore’ in the title: we were also inspected at the Dress Rehearsal to make sure our ‘whores’ were not too provocatively dressed or badly behaved!) Yet Tina was always proud of the fact that our production - which used a script sent to her by a cast member in Orange County, Los Angeles - used all of the text, even parts censored for fear of offending the good citizens of Orange County! Apart from having to master the Texan accent - Tina gave me a cassette of authentic speakers - the Sheriff says goddamn 43 times in the script: at one rehearsal, Tina made me go through every single goddamn iteration and insisted I find a goddamn different way of saying each and every one!
In improvisation she combined a razor-sharp wit and ability to connect the most distant of ideas, with the mime’s gift of physicallising offers into action and gesture. When she was on fire, it was hard to keep up, because we were laughing so much! One of her classics was a scene on board an aeroplane and we had to include five song titles provided by the audience. No sooner had I as the pilot taken off than Tina sashayed on as the stewardess: “For your food selection today, we have curry puffs, samosas and nagilas. Who would like to . . Hava Nagila?” (Plane almost crashes due to pilot collapsing in laughter!)
She was the most wonderful friend, who set the bar far above my head, and thanks to her encouragement, not only was I aware that the bar was there and that I should try to reach it, but from time to time, inspired by her, I have stood taller and managed to grasp it.
I miss her creativity , her comedy and above all, her caring - she had smsed me birthday wishes on the 16th when I was in Iran, just a few hours before she collapsed.