“It’s a small world after all”
Reviewer: Andre Theng
Performance: 25 June 2015
In light of this year’s SG50 celebrations, I should first commend W!ld Rice for reviving an interesting premise for a theatrical production, one which answers the question of whether Singapore and Malaysia are in fact, different or the same countries. This is especially so for the audience members who had missed the previous iteration – the 2005 production, Second Link. Even for those who were there in 2005, Another Country presents updated texts and a refreshed production, resulting in an up-to-date anthology of sorts of Singapore and Malaysian literature.
Here’s how the second production in Wild Rice’s ImagiNATION series works: the first half of the show consists of a Malaysian cast playing a series of 35 texts about Singapore, selected by Alfian Sa’at and played in chronological order. These are a combination of both fiction and non-fiction texts, including newspaper forum letters, poetry, a song commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and excerpts from Singapore theatre such as Lim Chor Pee’s Mimi Fan and Michael Chiang’s Private Parts.
The second half comprises texts about Malaysia curated by Leow Puay Tin. However, there is an additional twist: the pieces are not played in chronological order, and instead, before the intermission, the audience is invited to play a game of “tikam-tikam”, and the order of the pieces are decided there and then. A timer was set up at the corner of the stage, and at the end of an hour, the Singapore actors playing the Malaysian scripts would stop and perform just one more piece. That means that not all the pieces would be performed, and that the pieces each night would be different. The same devise was done in the 2005 iteration.
Throughout the performance, which flits through each (unrelated) piece of text and there seems to be little effort to make links between the pieces, I ask myself how the entire experience helped to answer the question presented in the premise.
Strangely, by the end of the nearly 3-hour performance, it works. The sum of all the parts clarifies that culturally, Singapore and Malaysia are quite the same after all. Many times, it is indeed difficult to identify whether a certain piece is Singaporean or Malaysian – many of the Singapore pieces are about Malaysia, such as Claire Tham’s Highway and Alfian Sa’at’s A Visit to a Relative’s House in Malaysia. This shows that geopolitical boundaries are not as clearly demarcated culturally, and perhaps, we have something in common after all.
Presented shortly after a run in Kuala Lumpur, I concur with the Malaysian reviewers that the Malaysian texts, presented by the Singapore cast, are more entertaining and well-paced than the longer and slower first half. I am not sure if it is the cast that lack energy and synergy on stage, or if it is the nature of the pieces chosen by Alfian that had resulted in this. The performance doesn’t start strong and only picks up in segments featuring song-and-dance. The Malaysian pieces, on the other hand, given their random order are high energy and on point, and you can look forward to Lim Yu Beng playing a chicken and Siti Khalijah, the crowd favourite, playing Emily. There are no sets and the production is accompanied by some video clips and props.
All in all, I must say that I enjoy the romp through Singapore and Malaysia, and if anything, I discover many new literary works which I will be sure to look up.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
ANOTHER COUNTRY by W!ld Rice
25 June – 11 July 2015
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andre Joseph Theng is passionate about the intricacies of language, and reviewing allows him to combine his love for both theatre and writing.