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Cook A Pot Of Curry

July 18, 2013
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CookAPotOfCurry1Event: “Cook A Pot of Curry” (as part of W!ld Rice’s “Alfian Sa’at – In The Spotlight”)
Venue: The Singapore Airlines Theatre @ LASALLE College of the Arts
Run: 3rd – 20th July 2013

Simmer and Stir

Back in August 2011, W!ld Rice struck theatrical paydirt with the staging of “Cooling Off Day” as part of the Man Singapore Theatre Festival, which proved to be such a hit that it was promptly restaged at the SOTA Drama Theatre the following February.

It was a refreshing exercise in verbatim theatre, whereby playwright Alfian Sa’at attempted to piece together on stage actual interviews conducted with Singaporeans from all walks of life, which resulted a powerful and incisive piece of theatre capturing the politcally-charged pulse of a nation in the days and weeks leading up to the watershed 2011 General Elections.

Fast forward to July 2013, and W!ld Rice and Alfian Sa’at return once again with “Cook a Pot of Curry”, which is essentially a follow-up to “Cooling Off Day”.

It’s almost impossible to view “Cook a Pot of Curry” in a vacuum without having to first draw comparisons with “Cooling Off Day”, simply because the look, feel and presentation style of the two plays are so eerily similar.

The title of this play is a reference to the curious incident reported back in 2011 (the actual incident apparently took place seven years before that) whereby a local Indian family had agreed to stop cooking curry whenever their mainland Chinese neighbours were at home as the smell had caused discomfort to the neighbours.

And although it is only the opening scene which touches on this curry incident, it forms the bedrock on which the rest of the play bases itself on, and that is the growing issues of overcrowding and xenophobia rearing their ugly heads in Singapore, oftentimes the two being inextricably linked and stemming from the same tree.

The six actors take turns portraying various real-life characters such as popular actress Daisy Irani, who hails from India, Gilbert Goh, who organised the Hong Lim Park event protesting the 6.9 million Population White Paper, a PRC scholar who has been living in Singapore for a number of years, a local Singaporean varsity student, a yoga instructor, taxi drivers, and so on.

Nelson Chia flexes considerable comedic muscle in this production, and was one of my favourite performers.

Najib Soiman once again does not disappoint in his portrayal of the various indigenous characters, while Judee Tan remains a riot as always whenever she takes to the stage, not to mention demonstrating an impressive set of pipes in the song and dance segments.

Although attempts to spice up the show were made in the form of the occasional musical numbers such as Mr Brown’s “Curry Curry Night” and a cleverly re-worded version of “Home”, after awhile things started to get a tad bit tiresome as things did not seem to be building to any discernible form of climax, and you got the feeling that the show was merely beating the same drum albeit in slightly differing rhythms.

Apart from the current hot-button issues of overcrowding and xenophobia, “Cook a Pot of Curry” didn’t seem to cover that much else, and often came across as merely an on-stage representation of the current-day gripes and frustrations of the average man on the street.

Which isn’t to say that it is a weak play by any stretch, but “Cook a Pot of Curry” just simply wasn’t able to elevate itself to the rousing and inspiring heights that “Cooling Off Day” was able to, becauseĀ “Cooling Off Day” came at a time which was just three months after what was commonly hailed as our “watershed” elections in 2011, and perfectly captured the emotional and political zeitgeist of a nation in both a powerful and succinct manner.

But as a stand-alone play, “Cook a Pot of Curry” fares perfectly well, and is both a thought-provoking and entertaining experience at the theatre, with enough hard truths to poke at your conscience, but also with enough comedy to keep things fairly palatable.

And in a non-election year, this is probably as close as you can get to an engaging piece of politically and socially-tinged theatre.

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