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Fear of Writing

September 7, 2011

I think it’s safe now. To publish this. It’s been 4 days. (Be forewarned this post contains the spoiler!)

Like a “moving” theatre, the audience was free to sit or move around. The actors too, would move across the space, stand on the platforms where the audience sat and even into the next room. I felt it was something like performance art, with the show consisting of projected interviews with people (about their views of Singapore), interjected with the ‘live’ performance of anecdotes by the actors and a ‘broadcaster’ played by Serene Chen. What was most gripping were the verbalised letters/correspondence between Tan Tarn How and, I believe, his daughter (whom he addresses as “baby”), played out by Tan Kheng Hua. That was how the whole context was intently played out, the thoughts that ran through the writer’s mind, the reason why the ink didn’t meet paper over the years. Even as he purports to write, fear creeps in to dominate, but cleverly concealed as what seemed like the writer’s block. However, he confesses it eventually. It was especially ‘raw’ and emotional with the knowledge that the person he was writing to had died in a tragic hit-and-run accident in London last year.

To start from the beginning, the premise of the play was about the playwright’s intent to write a play about CSJ, but that posed some difficulties due to its “sensitivity”. So eventually, he wrote ‘a’ play, not ‘the’ play about CSJ, but a play about overcoming the biggest obstacle in his writing – fear. The audience was brought through the thought processes from the inception to production of the play. It was surprisingly engaging. Kudos to the director and actors.
At a certain point, only when we were well into the play, we were introduced to ‘the smell’. Quite faintly but suddenly. It was, as I perceive, the smell of fear. Fear paralyses us and if you could say it, we might become “dead meat”. Another aspect of what the ‘smell’ of rotting flesh could refer to, in my opinion, was how unwittingly, most of us have become like “zombies”, just going about our lives indifferently. Strangely, as an afterthought while considering this aspect, I thought of Stepford Wives. Everything seems perfect and beautiful, people are nice, but there is that underlying “decay” and unreality. Only the ‘living’ smell it.


And as we were given the time to ponder this over, we were rudely interrupted by The Raid. MDA officials among the audience stood up and halted the show, apparently gathering evidence of our transgressions. The audience was confused and I believe, many of us weren’t sure if it was part of the play or not. But the officials were pretty serious and the cast too. It slowly seemed more real as we were informed of the statutes and possibility of us being participant to a possible crime. We were even told to queue up for them to take down our particulars. It reached as far as to the point when someone from the audience finally stood up and decided to walk out in defense of the situation. And then lights went out. Ah! so it was part of the play after all.

I felt it was powerful, which says something, considering how placid I can be. I nearly felt my life flash before me, or rather I saw a possible future of “destitution”. Okay, I exaggerate, but the ISA did flash across my mind. This track of thought was probably suggested in view of the tone of the play and the recent elections. However, despite the fear and worry, it was kind of heart pumping in another way. We were suddenly thrown into a possible life-changing moment and each of us clueless and innocent, maybe, in one way or another. How decisive will we be to react? Kudos to Janice Koh and Tan Kheng Hua, and also the “MDA officer Lin” who was ‘seriously’ convincing. Come to think of it, the secretive way she showed her identification should have given the game away. We were given a taste of the apprehension and possible consequences of how the playwright felt and feared might happen. This really was the impact, shaking and waking us up. But he did write this play eventually, casting fear aside. And aptly, the cross-out design of the title would signify no more fear? Interestingly, the programme contents (given at the end) were ‘struck off’. Representative isn’t it?

As a recap of the start, it looked like a natural exclusion exercise was conducted in the beginning when it was announced that the performance was “cancelled” due to the revocation of their licence to perform this play. So it became a closed door private party for invited guests only (us) instead. Those who didn’t want to stay could get their refund and leave. A couple of people did indeed leave and some questioned the legality of the party. Assuming they were not plants, they missed out on a thought-provoking play.

In a way, the play was quite informative, making us aware of certain laws we have. You can take it 2 ways, either making us more cautious by showing us the possible consequences or making us more aware of our rights. Are we thinking for ourselves and what we want? We are after all, all part of Singapore and I believe we love our country enough to care about it and want to make it a better place for everyone, whichever stand we take. Or else why bother?

At this point, it is clear with all these elements, from the use of space to the drawing of our response, we were all part of the stage. In fact, it was our stage as much as the cast were. And so, we are all players. Can theatre cause change? It may be unclear now, but we became more aware. It is a platform.

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