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August 6, 2011

(photo credit: Irfan Kasban)

Event: “Charged” by Teater Ekamatra (as part of the Man Singapore Theatre Festival)
Venue: Drama Centre Blackbox
Run: 3rd Aug – 7th Aug 2011

The original run for “Charged” took place last December at the Drama Centre Black Box, and even though it was a short run, it had received many favourable reviews.

Since then, “Charged” has gone on to win Best Script (Chong Tze Chien) at this year’s Life! Theatre Awards.

I was unfortunately unable to attend last year’s initial staging, and thus I eagerly looked forward to watching it two nights ago.

It so happened that Thursday evening was also the book launch of Tze Chien’s new book of plays, thus before the play began I was able to have a quick chat with the gifted playwright whilst asking him to autograph on the copy of his book of plays that I bought.

I also asked if this year’s staging was any different from the original staging, and he mentioned that small tweaks had been made here and there, but not much.

“Charged” is appealing in many ways because it is a play set in a place which most Singaporean males can probably relate to – an army camp.

(After the play I asked Ilkosa if she could relate to the whole army setting of the play, and she said “not so much”, so I guess this setting is slightly more relevant to those who have served NS.)

The comparisons to Rashomon are inevitable, at least in its approach, whereby various army boys give different accounts to the investigating officer of what they believe was the true story behind Russell’s shooting of Hakim, and subsequently his taking of his own life.

The story essentially revolves around Officer Victor de Souza’s mission of making sense of this seemingly senseless double-death, and along the way we are awakened to the harsh unspeakables of racist sentiments, as well as the fact that the truth is always kept off the record, and that while “race can be used to explain many things, it can also explain away many things” (one of the best lines in the play).

“Charged” is a very powerful piece as it brings to the forefront many of the unspoken thoughts that many Singaporeans may or may not have harboured in their hearts with regards to this very fragile and delicately-poised equilibrium we’ve come to know as “racial harmony”.

It was basically a no-holds-barred barrage of highly-charged sentiments, and hardly anything that should not be said was not said.

Yes, theatre is meant to disturb and challenge and provoke, but I personally wondered if it was necessary to bring out all these racist sentiments wholesale through the altercations between the soldiers on guard duty.

I wondered if there were a more subtle way to bring out these sentiments, rather than by letting the soldiers just blurt all these out in a rather clumsy fashion.

Perhaps a more subtle approach might have been slightly more effective, rather than have everything thrown into our faces lock, stock and barrel.

Having gone through many years of national service myself, I personally wondered if such racial altercations are all that common or realistic in Singapore camps, because I had not personally heard of any such stories before.

Not that I don’t believe that racial differences and varying sentiments don’t exist, just that I didn’t believe that they would ever manifest themselves in such an explosive manner.

It took a leap of faith to throw myself into the plausibility of this scenario.

As such, I had a slight problem in the believability of the play, in that I did not find it likely that something like this would have happened in Singapore.

But that aside, “Charged” is very well-written as it gives ample development to all characters, from Russell and Hakim to Officer de Souza to Zubir to the two mothers.

It was highly-satisfying as we got to see all the different stories being adequately fleshed out.

Tze Chien, once again, provides us with many strong and memorable lines throughout the play.

The acting in the cast did seem slightly uneven though.

Tan Shou Chen was commendable in his portrayal of Corporal Russell, and the mothers of the two dead soldiers, played by Serene Chen and Aidli “Alin” Mosbit, were very convincing as well.

Lastly, just a small point to note that I found it difficult to empathise with either Russell or Hakim, because the fundamental problem was that we were never told the true story and were given three or four different accounts for us to form our own conclusions.

As such, we were not informed of what the real Russell or the real Hakim was, and were unable to decide if we wanted to sympathise with them or not.

But nonetheless, I found myself being riveted by this extremely tense and thought-provoking play from Teater Ekamatra, and it is fantastic to see such challenging new plays being produced.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011 12:13 pm

    I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a proefsoisnal or just very knowledgeable?

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