“Chasing our dreams…together?”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 15 July 2016
Geng Rebut Cabinet (GRC), first staged in December 2015, is revived as part of the W!ld Rice Singapore Theatre Festival 2016. With the latest general election barely over in September 2015, both productions (just over six months apart) ride on raw memories and emotions associated that fateful event.
The premise of GRC is quite straightforward – playwright Alfian Sa’at imagines a world in which the percentages of ethnic Malays and Chinese in Singapore’s population are swapped, making ethnic Malays the overwhelming majority. Against this backdrop, the play traces the activities of five characters, members of the fictional Workers’ Action Party (WAP), as they campaign their way to eventual success during an upcoming general election.
The cast is strong overall, believable as political party candidates, each with their distinctive quirks. There is the experienced but slightly obnoxious minister with the bad jokes, the motherly grassroots leader, the superficial overseas scholar, the capable lawyer with a secret, and of course, the “token minority” candidate.
The effectiveness of the play, despite its overall simplicity, manifests in how uncomfortable it makes me feel within the first few minutes. As the party members have a meeting to plan their strategy for the election campaign, all of them instinctively communicate and banter in Malay, oblivious to the fact that new party member Catherine Seah is ethnic Chinese. It is only after awhile that a fellow new member, Maisarah Hamdan, reminds the rest that they may be being insensitive, prompting Catherine’s slightly apologetic reassurance to the group that she can understand them even though she may not be able to speak Malay well.
Such a scenario would conceivably be all too familiar to minority groups in real-world Singapore. Being part of the majority ethnic group, this forthright demonstration of taken-for-granted insensitivities, succeeds guilting me into reflection.
The play continues along these lines, throwing out every tacky racial stereotype of the Chinese you can think of, such as liking red and having a penchant for gambling, naturally frowned upon in the play’s Malay-Muslim-dominant world.
As is typical in Alfian’s work, the various sensitive issues mentioned in the play are nestled within an overarching cloak of humour. Much of the commentary is amusing in its familiarity to most Singaporeans, from jibes at how Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) make no geographical sense – complete with cheery Powerpoint demonstrations – to a deliberately cheesy music video showing the WAP candidates mingling with their constituents.
If there is one thing to gripe about, it would be the intrusiveness of the sound effects, which at times get in the way of the already effective script.
However, if anyone can make you laugh heartily and feel terrible at the same time, it is Alfian Sa’at. There are no easy solutions to the issues presented, so perhaps the best one can do is to recognise as much and laugh along.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
GRC (GENG REBUT CABINET) by Teater Ekamatra
14 July – 24 July 2016
Lasalle College of the Arts Flexible Performance Space
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.