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“Model Citizens” by The Necessary Stage

January 17, 2011

Event: “Model Citizens” (as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2011)
Venue: National Museum of Singapore Gallery Theatre
Run: 11th Jan – 15th Jan 2011

Having missed last year’s run of “Model Citizens”, I definitely had to go catch this year’s staging of it, as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

There is something gratifying about seeing the playwright (Haresh Sharma) and director (Alvin Tan) walking about the premises just before the play starts, knowing well that they are just as keen as we are to see the play begin, and also that they will be on hand at the end of the play to conduct the post-show dialogue session.

There is also something very gratifying about being able to purchase a copy of the play at the front of house, and I duly forked out my four dollars so that I could bring the play home with me and study the work carefully.

I will not go into detail about the plot and premise, as you can probably find it easily elsewhere, but in a nutshell, the story revolves around three fairly disparate women living in Singapore and how they are being brought together by a singular incident of a man stabbing an MP.

The most obvious thing that hits you the moment the play starts is the use of different languages to illustrate the inherent differences in the characters.

Mrs Chua (Goh Guat Kian) is the archetypal Chinese-ed type, Melly (Siti Khalijah) the Indonesian maid, and Wendy (Karen Tan) the English-reliant mother of her deceased son Tony.

And thus, with this device the playwright cleverly brings out the stark differences in class and social background without even having to rely too much on choice of words.

The acting was even throughout, and I thought all three actresses deserved warm commendations for delivering such remarkable performances.

One good point of observation which an audience member brought up after the show was that in this play, even though there are no men visibly present on stage, the story is in actual fact moved along by the actions of the men in the respective women’s lives.

Another point which someone else brought up had to do with the title “Model Citizens”, which I had been wondering about too.

I know I’m splitting hairs here, but I often wondered about the relevance of the title – could a better title have been chosen?

The whole notion of being model citizens didn’t exactly jump right out at me throughout the play.

Haresh Sharma was cool about it, and casually joked that it could have been titled “Three Women” or even “Friends Forever” (which brought out some laughs).

Another point to mention was the use of what Haresh and Alvin call “Magic Realism”, whereby at around the mid-point of the play, the characters, namely Mrs Chua and Melly were seemingly able to communicate with one another even though they were using their own indigenous languages, coupled with the fact that Mrs Chua doesn’t understand Bahasa and Melly doesn’t understand Mandarin.

It was a very clever touch which I thought worked brilliantly, and served to add just that one more dimension to the play.

I was a little troubled by the portrayal of Mrs Chua as the Chinese-ed MP’s wife, who laughed when she talked about her critically-injured husband in hospital, who was more concerned about what to wear and how she would look when she first received news of her husband’s stabbing, and who often made it look as if she really couldn’t care less whether her husband was dead or alive.

That felt, to me, a bit unrealistic and I just couldn’t bring myself to accept such a portrayal of such a wife…regardless of her social position.

But that is just me being narrow-minded.

And while the play gave ample room for Karen Tan to depict her mourning and grief over the loss of her son, I felt that there were details in that aspect of the plot which could have been fleshed out, e.g. why and how did Tony die?

I just felt that the mother-and-son story needed a bit more body to it.

In conclusion, this play does not make for easy viewing, but then again, good plays are meant to provoke and stimulate thought.

And in “Model Citizens”, Haresh Sharma, Alvin Tan and the gang at The Necessary Stage have provided us with an impeccable production that provides plenty of food for thought.

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