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“Singapore” by The Necessary Stage

February 19, 2012

Event: “Singapore” by The Necessary Stage
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 15th – 19th Feb 2012

First staged during last year’s Singapore Arts Festival, TNS’s rather ambitiously titled offering “Singapore” is a curious one.

It’s hard to put a finger on it really.

I had unfortunately missed last year’s staging, and thus am unable to make any comparisons between that first staging and this current one, but I gathered from the post-show dialogue session that the main differences were the changes made to the final segment of the play.

“Singapore”, starring the likes of Sharon Frese, Najib Soiman, Rodney Oliveiro, Siti Khalijah, Karen Tan, and Sukania Venugopal, consists of three distinct segments – the first being an enactment of William Farquhar’s time in Singapore and his relationship with his wife Nonio, the second being a meta-play about a group of theatre practitioners trying to put together a play about a group of Singaporeans being tasked to rewrite the national pledge, and the last one being a scene where these same practitioners engage in some internal conflict with regards to their little theatre group.

The production started out briskly enough.

There was enough momentum going on in the earlier proceedings that made you think that it would have led to something really great.

The first segment was certainly entertaining, but after awhile you started to ask yourself if there was a real point to be made here at all.

The second segment, which to me was the main focus of the entire production, felt slightly more meaningful.

Humour was largely provided through the abilities of the strong cast and how they executed the various caricatures, be it local or foreign characters, to maximum effect.

Things started to get a bit convoluted once you realised you were watching a meta-play whereby it is actually a play about a group of practitioners rehearsing a play.

The lines between reality and fantasy were well and truly crossed when after the second segment, the actors came forward and pretended to conduct a post-show dialogue, and some members in the audience actually thought it was the real post-show dialogue itself!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of TNS as the next guy because I think they put up some of the most wonderful and engaging stuff you can find, but I wonder if they might have dropped the ball on this one.

Probably not their best work.

Yes, the whole “locals vs foreigners” sentiment was brought to the fore once again, at times in such raw and brutal fashion that it made you wince, but apart from that, I came out of the theatre scratching my head trying to grasp the essence of “Singapore” in the way it was presented as a whole.

Plus, the inclusion of the song bits, while highly entertaining, just didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense apart from providing comic relief.

“Singapore” seemed more like a strange mishmash of ideas, of styles, and of dynamics.

And in the same way Singapore the nation is a mishmash of all of the above, I’m not sure if it has necessarily led to desirable results.

P.S. On a completely separate note altogether, I’m thankful to TNS for featuring the Carpenters song “I Won’t Last A Day Without You”, sung by Siti in the first segment, purely from a self-interest standpoint. It’s a wonderful song which I had not previously been familiar with, but am now liking very much. Thanks guys!

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