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October 5, 2012

Event: ‘Occupation’ by Checkpoint Theatre
Run: 27 to 30 Sep 2012
Venue: Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore
Written by: Huzir Sulaiman
Directed by: Claire Wong
Performed by: Jo Kukathas

Memories of World War II: The Other Side of Things.

If you like oral history, you might like Occupation, which is a play that tells you the impressions of WWII through the eyes of Mrs Siraj, who spent most of The Occupation sequestered in her large family home. Based on the true story of the writer’s grandmother, the story told was different from the usual woes and pains of war that we hear, but with a rather optimistic perspective, of romance, hope and community support. It wasn’t that she didn’t remember the scary or sad parts, but Mrs Suraj tried to look past that and dealt with it in her optimistic manner. This was in contrast to the interviewer, Sarah’s own view and desire to hear the angst, as she begins to re-evaluate her goals in life.

Jo Kukathas was marvelous as both characters, easily playing both roles using voice techniques, animated facial expressions and gestures. The whole play goes down to basics, boiling down to the platform of just the script and actor. It was good storytelling on the part of Jo, but there could have been more climatic points to kind of keep the audience focused and engaged to the script. I admit I lost focus a couple of times even though I was concentrating on what was spoken. The story of Mrs Suraj was well told, but maybe the parts with Sarah could be beefed up to create some ‘ups’ in the course of the play and also enrich her character. On a side note, it was strange that I felt that certain parts of Sarah’s monologue was a little Shakespearean in its delivery.

Maybe a point to note was that not all stories are sad or dramatic during the war, but there can be hope and (almost) normal lives at the same time. Interestingly, subtle reference was made to what are exposed to the public of the oral histories. How is what is released or not used to shape our history, and who determines what we should hear? Lastly, I am curious on the use of the chairs. Were they meant to supplement the storytelling as props? It could be just me, but I couldn’t really tell the relation to the story of the movement of chairs around.

Occupation talks not just about WWII, but attempts to relate it with the everyday life of sustenance by our own job occupation, just as the fight for sustenance during The Occupation.

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