SINGAPORE by The Necessary Stage (Singapore) – A Multi-racial Nation filled With Multiple Voices.

Esplanade Theatre Studio

15th February 2012 (Wednesday), 8pm

M1 Singapore FRINGE festival’ 12

Details of the play.

Singapore.

The only place I naturally call as my own when the day I was born here in this land.

Singaporean.

The only title I proudly give to myself without the second thought to be others.

But how much do I know about my country – Singapore and my identity as a Singaporean??

***

With the hope in finding my answer perhaps or at some point that I may be enlightened during or after watching this play which has chosen a familiar name – “Singapore”, one of the first names I had learnt after my own name as a child when I started my ABC; a name which has been closer to my heart when I first knew about the meaning of a country. And I’m proud to be its citizen.

Harbouring such a high hope to this play, partly because of its title but also a greater part of it that after I had read the introduction of the play from the brochure, the topics which it attempts to tackle have interested me tremendously; the relevant issues that Singapore is facing today!

***

To a certain extent, I must agree that it is not an easy task to bring out all the issues in Singapore in an approximately 100 minutes play (without intermission) and to be able to introduce this unique place which consists its various group of people with details as there are too many people and too many stories to tell, a huge scope hard to be covered fully.

Hence I’m really looking forward and curious to find out how TNS, a home-grown theatre company may present our home story in this play.

I am thrilled to see it for myself especially having watched the remarkable play by TNS, “Gemuk Girls” last year which till now still cast an impact on me whenever I recall the scenes and still pondering over the issues being raised in the play! A very powerful play by TNS which I have watched so far!

***

Ok. Back to “Singapore”, I would like to see this play as a whole which has separated into 3 parts.

Before the first part is presented, it starts with an introduction of two characters sitting in the centre of the stage – a Chinese lady wearing an ancient Hanfu costume (Traditional Chinese outfit in the older days in China before the Qing Dynasty) and a Malay man wearing his traditional Malay outfit. They are husband and wife, the lady is a princess who married into a Malay family (based on real history, she then introduced Chinese culture into the Malay culture and thus formed a new culture of Peranakan which we have known today).

This short introduction of an example (or a hint) of “merging” or a combination of races getting us “prepared” for the later part, then brings us to the beginning of the first part of the play, a mixture of real events with fictional elements about Singapore. The Malay man when we first seen in the introduction now as the Sultan of this island (long before Singapore is called Singapore), follows by a few real and fictional history characters of William Farquhar (real) with his wife or mistress, Nonya (frictional) and Sophia Raffles (not sure whether real or frictional).

The second part is about a group of Singaporeans from different races, statues and backgrounds holding a meeting to discuss about the rewriting of our national pledge. From there each of the members shares about their views of Singapore and the various challenges they have faced as its residents.

The third part is the longest and the most creative with improvisation, is a play within a play. It presents a group of theatre practitioners rehearsing for a play about the issue of foreign talents in Singapore. They are staging of the same scene as the second part on a meeting held for rewriting the national pledge but this time the group of members is replaced by a group of foreign talents instead who are also the permanent residents in Singapore from various countries.

The interesting part in this third segment is when each actor is having the chance to act in one another’s role, having the chance to experience how it is liked to be in one another’s shoes.

I find that it is the clever part of this play though this idea is not a new one as other plays have tried before but I like it to be in this play of its relevance and acts as a catalyst for the audience to have a quick glance or empathy in the other person’s position! It is also very entertaining and sometimes touching as we are also participating with each actor when they are taking turn in different role, sharing their inner thoughts and struggles as a “stranger” in Singapore.

It has also served as a reminder to me that sometimes whether we are Singaporeans who were born here or foreigners who have became permanent residents in Singapore; we both need to be in each other’s shoes to be more empathy in each other’s position.

To live in harmony and to maintain a country’s stability needs to be first understood the other party before seeking to be understood.

***

“Singapore” has many voices within from many different people with different opinions not only from the locals but also “newcomers” who want to be part of the country. Everyone is in searching to be belonged and wanting to be received recognition from each other.

Just like the first part in this play (the history portion), most of our ancestors were once immigrants to this “deserted” little Malay village island before, most of us do not belong here at first but it were the numbers of generation our ancestors grew their roots deeper and deeper into the soil of this land to bear their fruits of us living here long before. Then our feelings and sense of belongings towards this country has grown over time.

As nothing with strong foundation occurs overnight; no solution of a complexity
matter could solve in a day too.

***

Though it may be a good attempt to discuss these various issues within this 2 hours play about our homeland – SINGAPORE, which I also manage to catch a glimpse of laughter and tear, follows by few moments of enlightenment from the wonderful acting in each individual character/role and the rich content of it.

But just when I thought I might have caught many of these touches in my heart in the process firmly, it has been slipping away very quickly by the fast pacing changes along the track; it might be a side effect for not having a very strong foundation and a well structured storyline, although all the sources are very good ones.

Therefore at the end of it, this play leaves me with very little strong and lasting impression, even if I would like it very much to ponder further into each section and its theme/s.

And that it’s a pity to me.

***

Well, let’s end it off with a good cheer instead! I’m very much delighted to see this play does end with a good note with a message from S. Rajaratnam (the author of our national pledge) in hoping to have more writers (which including the playwrights) in the future, to have many more different voices from all walks of life, and in hoping to bring more thought-provoking and positive messages to the readers (and audiences).

Let’s look forward for more good works to come that “end it off with a good note” – an excellent masterpiece in the final (same as the destiny of our beloved country, Singapore)!  =)

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