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Rising Son

April 7, 2014

RisingSon1(photo credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre)

Event: “Rising Son” by the Singapore Repertory Theatre
Venue: DBS Arts Centre
Run: 27th Mar – 12th Apr 2014

Dangerous Liaisons

I was particularly excited to view this play for a number of reasons, one being that it is the first serious play ever written by prolific songwriter and musical composer Dick Lee, two being that it touches on an important aspect of Singapore’s history which is not often portrayed on stage, and three being that it stars three of our bright up-and-coming talents in Tan Shou Chen, Caleb Goh and Seong Hui Xuan.

The three actors probably need no further introduction, with Caleb Goh recently appearing in Toy Factory’s “Romeo & Juliet”, Seong Hui Xuan having starred in multiple productions with Pangdemonium the past few years amongst others, and Tan Shou Chen being a regular fixture on both the stage and TV screen.

“Rising Son”, part one of a three-part family trilogy, is set during the Japanese occupation period, and tells the story of 18-year-old Sunny (Shou Chen) and his awkward three-year friendship with Colonel Hiroyuki Sato (Caleb), who happens to be a high-ranking Japanese military lawyer.

The awkwardness of the situation is immediately apparent – a member of the enemy reaching out a friendly hand in what appears to be a conciliatory gesture to ingratiate himself with a member of the people whom his army has been committing vile atrocities against.

What exactly is his motive? Does he want something from Sunny? Or maybe he’s ultimately going after Sunny’s younger sister Ruby?

The potential for great conflict is certainly present in such a context, but sadly the play does not flesh this particular thread fully, and whereas Sunny spends most of the play being highly cautious of the Colonel’s intentions, after awhile it is apparent to the viewer that Colonel Hiroyuki is nothing more than a warm, gentle and honourable person with no ulterior motives whatsoever.

Which brings us to one of the main weaknesses of the play – that there is an apparent lack of danger in what could have been an explosively charged tale set right smack in the middle of the Japanese occupation.

Dick Lee does a great job in retelling his father’s experiences through the war (“Sunny” was his father), and the little epilogue at the end detailing what happened to the Colonel after he went back to Japan at the end of the war was a beautiful touch, but it is slightly unfortunate that the tale did not contain enough drama or conflict to truly enthrall an audience for a full 90 minutes.

Hui Xuan excels as the wise-beyond-her-years younger sister Ruby who has that rebellious and free-spirited streak about her, often providing moments of sheer magnestism onstage, while Shou Chen plays the role of the protective brother who remains highly skeptical of the other side.

Caleb brings out the awkwardness and inner conflict of the Japanese colonel who is uncomfortable in his own skin, and wishes he could break out of the militaristic role in which his nation has thrust upon him.

“Rising Son” is an endearing tale – a true story – of love and friendship during some of Singapore’s darkest years, and is both intimate, charming and funny at times (Dick Lee certainly knows how to write good humour).

And if this is anything to go by, I’m very much looking forward to the second and third parts of this trilogy.

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