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“Singapore” by TNS

February 18, 2012
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Event: “Singapore” by The Necessary Stage
Festival: M1 Singapore Fringe Festival’12 : Art & Faith
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 15-19 February 2012
Written by: Haresh Sharma
Directed by: Alvin Tan
Cast: Rodney Oliveiro, Karen Tan, Siti Khalijah, Najip Soiman, Sukania Venugopal, Sharon Frese

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Having missed the first staging at last year’s Singapore Arts Festival, I thought I shouldn’t miss it this time around.

The show comprised of 3 acts (without intermission). The play started out with their take on the history of Singapore, of William Farquhar and others like the wife he left behind we don’t often feature in our history (you mean he had a wife here?). Raffles was kind of out of the picture. How much was fact or fiction? That would be up to our interpretation. Moving on to more modern times in the later act, there was a play within the play (and was perhaps one reason why one of the audience members got confused during an interactive session during the play).

The actors were given quite a fair space to improvise and show their versatility in playing multiple characters, although the accents were sometimes not so convincing. However, I think the cast did well in playing the myriad of roles and personally, I didn’t have a big problem in identifying who was who at the various points in time. A lot of improvisation was going on and I think the cast had good dynamics with each other.

The “migration” theme was clear from the beginning till the end, when foreigners came (i.e. Raffles and gang) and till the current day; Singapore then and now. However, certain things became a little clearer after the post-show dialogue. Haresh talked about how the play was putting together S Rajaratnam’s vision of The Pledge (which he wrote) and it helped put things into perspective. What makes us Singaporean, and what makes us to be in harmony with others. It is true isn’t it that there are those who choose to leave if they are able to, while there are those who choose to stay in Singapore, because we have only this home and believe this is our only home. But I guess this migration tension will continue on even as it has gone on for centuries.

Also, it came to me that the need to have our voice heard kind of justifies or proves our existence. From William Farquhar’s wife (if she existed) to raising our views in the present day as citizens.

I didn’t quite enjoy the earlier part of the show as much as I would have liked though. It was funny, but it was almost bordering on slapstick and felt a little flighty. Well, I guess it makes it light after a day’s work for the audience and a deviation from the deeper stuff produced by TNS, but I still prefer Haresh Sharma with his more thought-provoking and “intense” plays that have their humour on a different level. The show did start to progress a little deeper in the later acts but I think the climax boiled down to the ending with an emotional outburst by Deb (played by Karen Tan) which at least rounded up the show in a good way (we were told this was not the way it ended during SAF last year).

On a side note, I was quite irritated by someone’s phone ringing (for what must have been 2 minutes) at one of the more important points of the show, when Rodney was delivering a “passionate speech” as a role of a role. The cast seemed fully aware of it (but the show went on) and you could tell the rest of the audience were getting irritated as well (yes, it was that long and distracting). I couldn’t fully concentrate on what Rodney was saying and it affected my feel of the conclusion a little as Karen made reference to it.

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