[Theatre Review] Another Country — A Celebration of Two Countries

Photo: Wong Horng Yih, Courtesy of W!ld Rice

Photo: Wong Horng Yih, Courtesy of W!ld Rice

Another Country
W!ld Rice
27 June 2015
Drama Centre Theatre
25 June–11 July 2015

”If only at one point our hands could clasp,

What rich variety and gesture could be ours.”

~ Dance by Fadzilah Amin

Like any love-hate relationship, Singapore and Malaysia have often come to fisticuffs. But in Another Country, we waved at our cousins, raced across the room, pulled them up, and danced with them.

We danced to the melodies and sentiments excavated from the texts of both countries that span five centuries. Drawing from literature, interviews, and even legal documents, Alfian Sa’at intricately weaves together the text for Sayang Singapura while Leow Puay Tin does the same for Tikam-Tikam: Malaysia@Random 2.

The Malaysian ensemble (Ghafir Akabar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh, Iedil Putra) interprets the Singaporean texts and the Singaporean ensemble (Sharida Harrison, Lim Yu-Beng, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Siti Khalijah Zainal) performs the Malaysian texts.

What emerges is a beautiful testament to the rich cultural resources we share that present a socio-historical account of the concerns that the writers had. This compels the audience to re-look at their own stories from a fresh perspective while listening and learning more about the other side.

The curators must be applauded for picking texts which not only cover events running up to the merger or just after the separation, but also broach uncomfortable topics.

Notable selections from the Malaysian corpus include Tunku Abdul Rahman dreaming of a bad omen which preceded the race riots in Malaysia, Amir Muhammed’s 120 Malay Movies which discusses Singapore marking the start of the national narrative at 1965 and parallels that with the Malaysians not acknowledging their cultural roots from the Hindu empires of old, and the self-reflexive The Myths that Cloak Our Theatre by Krishen Jit which criticises the industry for the lack of community theatre projects and turning theatre into a polished product meant for the middle classes to consume.

The Singapore selection explores political censure, among other topics, by choosing The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ by Eleanor Wong, Fear of Writing by Tan Tarn How, and Gemuk Girls by Haresh Sharma. The most interesting choice of them all is Elangovan’s Talaq which portrays how some Indian-Muslim husbands intentionally misinterpret Islamic principles to justify their infidelity and subjugation of their brides from India. I was surprised that the Media Development Authority allowed this to pass given that they banned the original performance of the English script.  I hope that the audience would be compelled to read the play in full and judge it for themselves.

The possible dialogues sparked off by this production would not have been possible without the brilliant performances by both ensembles. Their talent and versatility are clear for all to see as they are able to smoothly transit between texts that have very different demands and characters. The actors are also able to command the stage during their individual scenes and immediately reintegrate back as an organic whole once that is over. I would not be surprised if this production gets a nomination for best ensemble at the Life! Theatre Awards and it will be such a lovely gift to the Malaysian actors as well.

This project needs to be revisited every decade and updated with new and exciting writing. Apart from the texts we have, future iterations should boldly experiment with performance practices and forms. Who knows? Perhaps we could develop a performance vocabulary unique to both sides of the causeway—our own artistic secret handshake.

Other Reviews

“Theatre Review: Wild Rice’s ‘Another Country'” by Mayo Martin, Malay Mail

“Review: Another Country” by Gwen Pew, Time Out Singapore

“It’s a small world after all” by Andre Theng, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews

“REVIEW: ‘ANOTHER COUNTRY’ – NO PASSPORT NEEDED, ART TRANSFORMATIVE!” by Ann Lee, The Daily Seni

“Another Country by W!ld Rice Review – Proving the Singapore-Malaysia Causeway Isn’t Too Much Of A Divide” by Scott Lur, The Smart Local

[Theatre Review] The Weight of Silk on Skin

The Weight of Silk on Skin
Checkpoint Theatre
Drama Centre Theatre
3–7 August 2011

They say that you can never forget your one true love and no matter what you have achieved, nothing matters if she is not here. Sulaiman’s latest offering of “The Weight of Silk on Skin” for this year’s Man Singapore Theatre Festival certainly provides an intimate insight into the male psyche with regards to love, sex, career and the arduous journey called life.

John Au Yong is the envy of every man. Rich, stylish, educated and rakish. Having achieved everything that one could wish for, he revisits his life of blossoming romance, lost love, empty affairs and sexual intrigue. And through it all, he still can’t forget Anna, a girl whom he met in college and could never forget. After 25 years, both of them are single again. Will John be able to reclaim this lost love of his or will Anna be a fond but painful memory?

By all accounts, The Weight of Silk on Skin is a raw beauty. The relationship between playwright, actor, director and audience has never been so palpable in this one man show. Sulaiman’s witty and thought provoking script is like a prism. While the input may be the storyline of meditation and reclaiming lost love, it sheds light on so many aspects of not only a man’s life but even life as a Singaporean.

It is amazing how the script is able to capture snatches of life and even become a chronological indicator as there are references to the music of the time periods and the advent of technology when John mentions merely being friends on Facebook with his ex wife. The recurrent metaphor of clothes not only provided a sartorial education but it brings across the idea of the pretense we put on and strip away in different stages of our life.

Ivan Heng certainly did justice to the exciting script with his impeccable portrayal. His acting is nuanced and thoughtful. His account of his life transists from moment to moment with great ease while bringing about a different and renewed energy to each scene. Additionally, he was able to switch his vernacular and accent with ease when the lines shift from standard English to local expressions. His control over his voice, movement and stance is commendable as even when there was a major disturbance from the audience as the latecomers were entering the theatre, he never faltered and carried on with the show. This is certainly admirable as the chances of being thrown off is greatly multiplied when it is a one man show. Heng’s involvement in this production is a masterclass for all aspiring actors.

As the play closes and Heng cuts a Bond-esque look with him in a tuxedo, his final imploration of forgiveness is without a doubt, the most poignant moment of the show. The two words, “forgive me” set within a bare stage and raw lighting certainly emphasised of how John, while dressed to the nines, is stripped bare of all pretense and the only desire now is to atone for his mistakes and reclaim his one true love.

This show undoubtedly entertains but more importantly, it provokes some soul searching and perhaps a hard look at the lives of men; their impulses and desires. A great exposition of how men work.


This review was first published on the blog, Essential Culture. As it is now defunct, I have republished it here as a backdated post.