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July 14, 2012

Event: Utter: A Double Bill  《优剧》: 双剧目
Venue: Play Den, The Arts House 
Run: 5 – 7 July 2012
Director/导演: Nelson Chia (谢燊杰)
: Lez Ann Chong (张丽恩), Koh Wan Ching (许婉婧), Johnny Ng (黄家强), Rei Poh (傅正龙), Yang Kai Jie (杨凯杰)

As a pre-festival event to the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), The Arts House presented two adaptations of local literati, Yeng Pway Ngon and O Thiam Chin’s works last weekend. I’ve read neither of the two writers’ works before this.

Given the teaser of a cafe setting with encounters between the creator of the stories and their characters, I was expecting something surreal or an insight into the creative mind of the writers. If the intention of such a setting was the same as my expectations, I’m afraid it wasn’t so. In both instances, they did start out with the writer in cafe, but I felt it wasn’t developed. Will come to that.

In the first play 《影子森林》(Shadows in the Jungle), adapted from 《画室》(“The Studio”) by 英培安 (Yeng Pway Ngon), a young man Jian Xiong appears in the cafe and we are invited into his story of when he awoke to find a bearded man with him, but who eventually became his companion in the jungle as they lived out the revolution, in their own world. I have no doubt that the original text is rich with context and spirit, but I couldn’t quite grasp the main message of the whole story in this adaptation. I felt that it might be better just to read the book.I understand it would be difficult to tell the full story with a 1-hour excerpt, but though you catch a glimpse, it wasn’t coming out as strong as I would have liked it. Was it a breaking out? A questioning of beliefs? The pace felt a little heavy/slow.

Also, I felt that what started out as a promising cafe setting became somewhat forgotten along the way as that aspect wasn’t developed with a stronger integration except for the occasional “back to the writing table” moments. Technically, I felt the story would have been told with or without the inclusion of that. I think it would have been great if there was more of an exchange or interplay between the writer’s projection and his characters. Maybe it wasn’t the intention to be such as opposed to my expectations.

However, I think what’s good was that it kind of piqued an interest to read the original text, as it did for my friend, which I’m sure was one of the intentions.

In the second play The Yellow Elephant and The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun, adapted from O Thiam Chin’s short stories, the stories were more abstract in nature with a yellow elephant in a living room and the swallowing of stars and sun. The writer’s involvement was at its minimum, with no speech and only the passing of a note. Although I don’t think I got the metaphoric references that well, I appreciated the attempts to mash up the 2 short stories by using overlapping references like yellow and sun, culminating in a closing that  unified the characters from both stories. As abstract as this was, I believe it tells of the coming to terms with oneself.


In both plays, I think SWF’s effort to introduce more local literature outside of the main event in November is good. Though just excerpts, we get a peek into the books. Adaptations allow the works to be introduced to different masses, and I do hope to see more of these coming.

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