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Fear Of Writing (An Absurd Play)

September 7, 2011

Event: “Fear of Writing” by TheatreWorks
Venue: TheatreWorks @ 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road
Run: 1st-3rd Sept & 6th-10th Sept ’11

***Warning: Possible Spoilers Alert!***

Never had I heard so much buzz surrounding a play as I had for this one.

Last week, one particular tweet on Twitter proclaimed it as THE play of the year, and Ilkosa said that she felt her life flash before her (which obviously intrigued me no end).

Yet there were others who weren’t too thrilled by it all.

There was, also, the unfortunate leakage on social media such as The Online Citizen’s Facebook page about a particularly crucial aspect of the play (more on that later), which more or less let the play’s biggest cat out of the bag.

Therefore, I just had to see it for myself.

The moment I arrived at TheatreWorks’ 72-13 premises on Tuesday evening, I could immediately feel the thick sense of anticipation in the air.

This was to be a play like no other, and most of us who were there to attend it were more or less aware of that.

The local theatre cognoscenti was rather well-represented that night, all expectant of the latest offering from Tan Tarn How after a hiatus of about 10 years.

If we thought Chong Tze Chien’s “To Whom It May Concern” challenged us to discern truth from falsehood, then “Fear of Writing” took things a step further.

Our sense of reality was promptly disturbed right at the start when Tan Kheng Hua suddenly stood up from amongst the mingling crowd in the reception area and introduced herself as the “director” of the play, and Janice Koh as the “producer” of the play, which drew what would be the the start of many an incredulous “Huh???” for the rest of the evening.

Didn’t we read that Ong Keng Sen was the rightful director of the play?

Oh wait…what play?

Kheng Hua duly went on to explain that there would be no play that evening, only a “party”, because an MDA license for the play could not be obtained, and that dissatisfied ticket-holders could immediately get their refunds at the door.

Long story short, we were subsequently led into the performance area, where audience members were encouraged to casually sit or stand around to observe the proceedings.

Ilkosa already described it pretty well in her post below that the proceedings almost resembled “performance art” in the way the actresses moved around the entire room and used all conceivable space, and how both live performance and multimedia were seamlessly integrated to form a cohesive work of art.

“Fear of Writing” is not a play itself in the conventional sense.

It is basically an attempt to portray and chronicle Tan Tarn How’s process in attempting to write a play based on political maverick Chee Soon Juan, although we are never introduced to the actual Chee Soon Juan play at all.

The play tries to capture Tarn How’s mental state whilst in the process of writing the play, and the shifting from scene to scene, e.g. news broadcasts, letters to his daughter, conversations with his director, etc. probably represented the conflicted state of mind he was in while trying to write it.

The “cat in the bag” duly arrived at the end of the play, in the form of the MDA officials attempting to halt the proceedings and demanding to take down the particulars of everyone in attendance, amidst much remonstration from Kheng Hua and Janice Koh.

Blame social media, if you will, for the rapid and almost instant dissemination of information nowadays.

I believe that at least half the room was probably already in the know and meekly played along, although I did spot a few members of the audience who were in a genuinely precarious state of disbelief.

I suppose the “fortunate” ones were those who had attended either the 1st Sept or the 2nd Sept performances, since they would have been able to experience the full extent of what it means to feel the “fear” which seems to pervade many aspects of our society today.

If you asked Ilkosa, she would probably be able to relate to you better the deep sense of trembling “fear” she felt at the end of the play, the way the director had fully intended for it to be felt.

One might recall the slightly unfortunate spar on national TV between Ken Kwek (formerly ST journalist, now playwright) and Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2006, where Ken Kwek unwittingly brought up the issue of “climate of fear” in Singapore, whereby he was immediately shot down by Mr Lee.

We have come a rather long way from those days, if you consider what a landmark year this has been with the singular events of the Presidential Elections, and more importantly, the General Elections.

I have a faint suspicion that “Fear of Writing” would have been even more powerful had it been staged one year ago, when terms such as “opposition party” and “SDP” were still highly taboo words in society.

It’s only been one year, but we are quick to forget how much our social climate has changed after the major political events of this year.

Nonetheless, “Fear of Writing” promises a theatrical experience like no other, and looks us dead in the eye and dares us to confront our fears.

It challenges all of us with the most fundamental of questions: What are you made of? What things in life mean most to you? And are you willing to fight for them?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ilkosa permalink
    September 7, 2011 11:38 pm

    “I have a faint suspicion that “Fear of Writing” would be been even more powerful had it been staged one year ago, when terms such as “opposition party” and “SDP” were still highly taboo words in society.”

    Personally, I think I might not have found it so as I was much less politically aware and sensitive than after the elections. But of course, there are others who would differ from me.

  2. September 8, 2011 6:14 am

    Excellent response to the play – one technical error though: according to the ‘director’, a license was obtained but she has since made ‘improvements’ to it and did not want to go through the tedious process of re-submitting for a new license. I thought that was much more effective than an outright refusal to grant license because it really brought out the prohibitive nature of censorship in Singapore which leads people to do all sorts of energy-wasting pre-emptive action

    • Jeremy permalink*
      September 8, 2011 3:38 pm

      Thanks for the clarification, R. Appreciate it!


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