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Geng Rebut Cabinet

December 18, 2015

GengRebutCabinetEvent: “Geng Rebut Cabinet” by Teater Ekamatra
Venue: Flexible Performance Space @ LASALLE College of the Arts
Run: 9th – 13th Dec 2015

Inside Out

Teater Ekamatra’s latest play “Geng Rebut Cabinet”, written by Alfian Sa’at and directed by Mohd Fared Jainal, is a delightful contradiction of sorts.

It’s a play which tackles the often prickly and sensitive subject of racial dynamics in Singapore, but it is easily one of the most hilarious Alfian Sa’at plays I’ve seen.

It is set in a country which in all likelihood refers to Singapore, but the playwright cleverly turns things on its head by portraying Malays as the majority race, with a GRC of the incumbent ruling party having to field a minority Chinese candidate named Catherine Seah (Neo Swee Lin) as part of the General Elections requirement.

It is election season and tensions are running high, and the five-member Chai-Chee Commonwealth GRC team holds a meeting to discuss campaign strategy, led by its charismatic leader Roslan Jantan (Khairudin Samsudin).

There is the amiable, grassroots-active team secretary Zainab Halim (Dalifah Shahril), the not-uncommonly-seen army general fresh out of the armed forces and parachuted straight into politics Bukhari Ghazali (Fir Rahman), the successful big shot lawyer Maisarah Hamdan (Farah Ong), and of course, the token Chinese minority candidate Catherine Seah, a Chinese teacher.

At the onset, Catherine’s exuberance is regarded as nothing more than mere amusement for the rest of the team, and her eagerness to not only contribute but make a significant impact on the campaign is dismissed as sheer idealism, nothing more.

After all, her role as minority candidate is merely to fulfill the GRC requirement and keep her segment of Chinese voters happy.

However, as the campaign rallies begin and Catherine starts to deviate from the script and champion for equal rights for minorities and at the same time speaking out against majority privilege, the rest of the team realise that they have a crisis on their hands and close ranks to clamp down on this errant minority voice.

“Geng Rebut Cabinet” uses inverted reality to scintillating effect, and the pointed awkwardness of the inversion allows the play to make its points that much more effectively.

A Malay general? Hardly any Chinese fighter pilots in the air force? The Chinese population often struggling to keep up with their counterparts academically?

Its combination of near-absurd humour together with harsh irony make it so compelling, and its two-hour duration seems to fly by in an instant.

The play is also elevated greatly by the strong cast of five, with Neo Swee Lin playing it relatively straight while the rest of the cast, with Khairudin Samsudin in particular, giving riveting, offbeat performances.

Ultimately, Catherine Seah manages to somehow exceed expectations and help her GRC score the second best result in the entire General Election, but just when she thinks she is starting to gain any form of political traction, she ironically gets “silenced” by being designated the role of Speaker of Parliament, the first woman to be given the role, and a minority member at that.

This being election year, Alfian Sa’at manages to recapitulate some of the salient political talking points, such as the redrawing of election boundaries, the way the incumbent party attacks the credibility of the opposition, and the internal workings of the incumbent party political mechanism.

At the same time, he raises many difficult questions about race in Singapore, some of which might not come as too out-of-the-blue if you have been following his Facebook page musings for some time.

In the playwright’s own words: “I have never thought of race as a ‘sensitive topic’. To me, race is sensitive only when we lack a language to talk about it.”

And in “Geng Rebut Cabinet”, he has certainly given us a medium to talk more about it.

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