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Cooling Off Day

August 15, 2011

Event: “Cooling Off Day” (as part of the Man Singapore Theatre Festival)
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 10th Aug – 14th Aug 2011

It’s only been three months, but it’s funny how the unforgettably rousing events of 7th May and the days leading up to it seem like a somewhat distant memory now.

“Cooling Off Day”, written as a piece of verbatim theatre by playwright Alfian Sa’at, attempts to capture an emotional snapshot of those highly-charged few days leading up to this year’s oft-labelled “watershed” General Elections.

It is a piecing together of 35 different interviews of real men and women in Singapore, over a cross-section of attributes such as age, race and social status, and their thoughts and views on anything vaguely relating to politics in Singapore.

And as such, it is only expected that we would have been treated to a whole mish-mash of ideas and portrayals, on differing levels of intellect.

Lest you suspect that “Cooling Off Day” was overtly one-sided in its political leanings, I am glad to say that I found it to be far more balanced than I had expected it to be.

In fact, the opening scene itself, where Tan Kheng Hua plays a rational young school girl, asked a lot of pertinent questions on why we should simply vote against the ruling party.

The cast of Tan Kheng Hua, Najib Soiman, Neo Swee Lin, Peter Sau, Rodney Oliveiro and Jo Kukathas was highly competent, and Jo Kukathas should perhaps be singled out for her brilliant performances, even though it seemed to me like she might have played slightly fewer roles than the others in the cast.

Najib Soiman proves once again that he is the supreme master of comic caricature, although Peter Sau was quite a riot as well.

Playwright Alfian Sa’at and directors Jo Kukathas and Ivan Heng expressed at the post-show dialogue session that their main challenge in this play was how to select the pertinent interviews from the wealth of material that they had collected, and how they could piece together and arrange the pertinent material into a sequence which made the most sense and had the strongest impact.

I liked that the interviews spanned a variety of topics, such as race, foreign policy, rising cost of living, social media and even Teo Soh Lung’s gut-wrenching account of her experience under ISA detention.

Well-known personalities interviewed include blogger Alex Au, TOC editor Joshua Chiang, SDP candidate Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, and even popular blogger Xiaxue.

One aspect of the play I couldn’t understand was the heavy emphasis on the whole “Easterners vs Westerners of Singapore” dynamic.

I personally didn’t find the topic all too resonant, and was slightly curious as to why it was played out at length.

The unanimous high point of the evening was the last scene of Act 1, where the cast re-enacted the infamous “Bak Chor Mee” parody of 2006, albeit with many 2011 references thrown in…some subtle, others not so subtle.

(I remain incredulous at how many times Singaporeans will burst into laughter every time they see a girl in white stomp her feet on stage and say “I don’t know what to say!” before finally growing tired of it.)

There was no other point in time in “Cooling Off Day” where the energy level in the room rose to a level anywhere near as during the “Bak Chor Mee” scene.

Alfian Sa’at expressed slight dismay (good-naturedly, of course) that the “Bak Chor Mee” scene would have been the highlight of the play, when ironically it was the only scene that was not contributed nor conceived by him, since it was Mr Brown’s creation after all.

I suppose political parody is still one of the most popular forms of theatrical entertainment here in Singapore.

And on a larger-picture level, I suppose politics, especially in a landmark year like this year, is a subject that remains very close to our hearts, even though it may not necessarily be a topic that is always on our lips.

And in “Cooling Off Day”, Alfian Sa’at and W!ld Rice have done remarkably well in capturing the Singapore political zeitgeist of 2011 in as comprehensively a way as can be done within the confines of a 130 minute play.

P.S. Loved the play’s poster design. One of the best theatrical poster designs I’ve seen in awhile. Kudos!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2011 8:42 am

    Does Cooling Off Day play to the crowds with its raillery at the ruling political party and puckish references to Tin Pei Ling Chen Show Mao and Yam Ah Mee? Were you expecting anything less?But if that was the sum of the play then it would have been just a compilation of very funny but ultimately inconsequential comic sketches – and Cooling Off Day is so much more.People lament that Singaporeans have no soul. These people should watch Cooling Off Day which is composed entirely of verbatim extracts of interviews with a cross-section of Singaporeans.


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