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Another Country

June 30, 2015

AnotherCountryWildRice1(Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS, courtesy of W!ld Rice)

Event: “Another Country” presented by W!ld Rice
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 25th Jun – 11th July 2015

Strange Bedfellows

W!ld Rice celebrates it’s 15th season entitled “ImagiNATION” with “Another Country”, after staging “Public Enemy” earlier in April this year.

It is essentially a revisit of their 2005 production “Second Link”, because while the cast and material are slightly different this time round, the concept is the largely the same – Malaysian actors playing Singapore texts (both from theatre and literature) in the first act, followed by Singaporean actors returning the favour in the second.

Similarly, the second act, curated by Leow Puay Tin, is done “tikam-tikam” style, whereby the audience gets to randomly dictate the order in which the Malaysian texts are performed.

The first act, entitled “Sayang Singapura”, chugs along steadily enough, and you are taken on a delightful journey through the annals of Singapore history told through notable written texts, with master curator Alfian Sa’at at the helm.

The early works are fascinating although inevitably obscure, offering a glimpse into zeitgeist of a time long before us, and it is towards the second half of the Singapore segment where we start to enter into familiar territory, what with the likes of Kuo Pao Kun, Michael Chiang, Tan Tarn How and so on.

The hilarious enactment of a scene from “The English Language Teacher’s Secret” drew giggles from those particularly familiar with the Catherine Lim short story, while “Highway” by Claire Tham proved to be one of the highlights of the evening, inducing knowing guffaws from motorists who are all too familiar with the perils of driving along the North-South Expressway.

Scenes from Michael Chiang’s “Private Parts”, Haresh Sharma’s “Gemuk Girls”, and Tan Tarn How’s “Fear of Writing” felt familiar yet strangely different, mainly because they were being played by our talented neighbours from across the causeway, and it made things seem like they were being performed with actors carrying with them a different set of persuasions and perspectives, shaped through having lived in another land.

It was nice to see Alfian including works by two relatively newer writers, namely Amanda Lee Koe and Christine Chia, to the collection.

I particularly enjoyed Ghafir Akbar’s portrayal of Deddy Haikel in Amanda Lee Koe’s “Flamingo Valley”, and I thought the entire scene was a beautiful moment.

The second act of the show presents us with five familiar faces – Sharda Harrison, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Lim Yu-Beng, and Siti Khalijah.

It’s hard to say for sure which act felt more intimate: Was it the one with familiar content performed by unfamiliar faces, or the one with familiar faces performing unfamiliar content?

Nonetheless, the second act, entitled “Tikam-Tikam: Malaysia@Random 2” opened the same way it did 10 years ago, with the actors stipulating a 60-minute time limit on themselves and playing as many works as they can in the order which was randomly determined by the audience just before the close of the first act.

There has to be something said about the difference between the way the two acts are presented, but I just cannot put my finger on it.

Could it be that the first act of Singaporean works, all systematically-presented and in proper chronological order, reflected the more clinical and organised nature of Singapore society?

Or is it that the rushed, cram-everything-into-60-minutes approach in the second act parallels the way in which everybody in Singapore always seems to be pressed for time?

Either way, it has to count for something, although I remain unconvinced that the randomised nature of the presentation in the second act is of any benefit, as it lacks the precious narrative element which is so palpable in the first act.

Also, I felt that involving the audience in the determination of the second act sequence was a largely pointless exercise – gimmicky even – as it didn’t really seem to matter to anyone in the audience what the order in the second act was, and if anything, it was lamentable that on the night I was there, there wasn’t enough time for “Emily of Emerald Hill” (the only Malaysian text I was familiar with) to be performed.

“Another Country” is a poignant take on the cozy and sometimes quirky relationship between two neighbours whose histories and cultures – like it or not – have been inextricably linked, and who will inevitably continue to have close ties with each other in the years to come.

It is performed by ten gifted actors who are all evenly matched, and showcases some of the best works of writing from Singapore and across the Causeway.

Beneath the many apparent differences between us and Malaysia, are we essentially that different from each other?

At times it seems we cannot be any more different, but upon closer inspection we tend to find more similarities than we would like to admit.

But whatever it is, there is no denying we make strange bedfellows.

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