“A Richly-Coloured History Of Singapore”
Reviewer: Meera Nair
Performance: 3 July 2016
There is a lot that can go wrong in four and a half hours, but Hotel isn’t one of them.
It is impossible not to be impressed when you come face-to-face with the richly-coloured set and costumes, or when you hear the cast effortlessly going through nine languages with perfect accents. The backbone of their performances is a script by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, which remains witty even while dealing with sensitive historical material.
In short, Hotel manages to keep its historical re-telling current. Take the opening sketch about the 1915 Sepoy Mutiny. A mention of the need for alcohol control despite the mutineers being sober draws parallels with the events in Little India in 2013. Another running thread is the critique against essentialising race. The play challenges assumptions of race, most heart-wrenchingly through the barbarism inflicted by the police onto Hakim (Ghafir Akbar), an innocent trader who is suspected of being a potential terrorist threat to the country.
Hotel starts off as a series of unrelated sketches, but these come together in the second half to show. For example, the love child of a Japanese officer (Moo Siew Keh) and a local Malay woman (Sharda Harrison), whom we meet in 1945, returns 40 years later to find his mother. Azizah (Siti Khalijah Zainal), who meets P Ramlee (Ghafir Akbar) in 1955, makes an appearance in 2005 with her son Hakim (Ghafir Akbar). While the play mostly finds a balance between serious and amusing, the second half of the play appears sombre and darker, in part weighed down by the sketch of 2005. It raises the question of whether this play too may have fallen victim to our tendency of romanticising the past and vilifying they present.
While Hotel takes a journey through time, it remains confined within the physical space of one hotel suite. The setting is eminently suitable. Like guests in a hotel, the stories fleetingly occupy the stage, some leaving a stronger mark on their surroundings than others, some returning in the future, all unique in their own way.
If the hotel room be Singapore and Singapore be home, then it is worth observing that in the final scene, we are told that the notion of home could be an illusion, that we are all just travellers passing through it. Sobering as the thought may be, Hotel reminds us that it is the travellers that breathe life into the physical space of the room, through the lives they lead and the stories they create. For a country born of immigration, there cannot be a greater truth.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
HOTEL by Wild Rice
30 June – 24 July 2016
LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore Airlines Theatre