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Cooling Off Day

August 14, 2011

Event: “Cooling Off Day” by Alfian Sa’at (as part of the Man Singapore Theatre Festival)
Run: 10th – 14th Aug 2011
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Directed by: Ivan Heng & Jo Kukathas
Starring: Jo Kukathas / Najib Soiman / Neo Swee Lin / Rodney Oliveiro / Peter Sau / Tan Kheng Hua

When I first heard of this play, I wondered. Will it be a pro-PAP or pro-opposition play? Is it focused on the “gunpowder” sentiments of the citizens? But as the show panned out, it was in fact, presented rather objectively. This, I take it to be parallel to the rationale behind Cooling Off Day, which was meant to let our emotions settle down and let us make rational decisions as we weighed our options in perspective.

This was probably my first time watching verbatim theatre. Constructed out of interviews with people before and after the general elections, it was an amalgamation of the opinions of Singaporeans (and PRs?) from both camps; from the regular man-on-the-street, to the popular bloggers (e.g. Mr. Brown, theonlinecitizen, yawningbread) and even politicians. There were a total of 35 scenes, including the familiar Mr Brown podcast of the hawker centre “skit” which still drew laughs even though we’ve heard it before. The “lightning” touch resounded well in the ending of that scene with “Repent!”. There was also another familiar segment about the splitting of Katong area, where Joo Chiat isn’t part of Joo Chiat constituency, etc., which I had read about in an article. I think my favourite scene would be that of Saleh (played by Najib Soiman), the elderly Malay man, especially on the part to prove if Malay candidates were Malay. The Chinese masseuse (played by Peter Sau) was another ‘like’ of mine.

I understand it must be hard to put together the interviews into logical sequence or to frame a kind of theme or something. In terms of structure, we did see the 2nd half of the production moving towards a heavier tone than the 1st, where the interviewees portrayed were sharing on a deeper level. The segments on Teo Soh Lung were probably the more moving portions of the whole show. Honestly, I never knew of the ISA until in recent years when I happened to read some old articles. I was also vaguely reminded of Lim Chin Siong, having coincidentally read of his history at the National Museum the previous day.

There were a couple of hits and misses as some ended a little flat to me, but then again, those could mean something to others like how some of the actors themselves expressed the conflict they had in playing some characters. It could be I’m not really a political person, or people might call me politically insensitive or neutral. But I do believe these are honest accounts so I shan’t comment much on these. Nonetheless, there were a few that ended in an insightful manner, like the scene about the makcik photographed. She ended with something like this – “The question shouldn’t be who’s the makcik photographed, but who’s the photographer? Who’s the chief editor that published it? It is all very political.” 😉 I felt that the West and East comparisons could have been kept to or consolidated into one scene though. I was a little tired that night, so I might have felt the show slightly long towards the end, but generally still ok lah.

To top it off, I liked the way the whole production ended which had the actors, in the midst of Yam Ah Mee’s Club Mix, placing chairs representing the 87 seats of parliament with the whites and 6 opposition seats in red. A fine round up.

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