In the Living Room with Tan Tarn How was held in the company of a live audience on 8 December 2015.
Dr. Robin Loon chats with Singaporean playwright Tan Tarn How about his plays. In a span of two decades, Tan Tarn How has written nine plays, several of which have won numerous awards. Collectively, his work examines the socio-political environment and machinations of the Singapore state.
The 100-minute Living Room Chat has been repackaged into a 4-part video recording:
Part 1: Robin introduces Tarn How and dives into his most recent play, “Fear of Writing” (2011). The two discuss the play’s links to Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads” series, a prophetic line from the play, and the capacity of theatre for social change.
Part 2: Robin chats with Tarn How about his plays “Machine” (2002), “The First Emperor’s Last Days” (1998), and “Six of the Best”(1996). The two discuss topics such as the Pinteresque, working with Ong Keng Sen, and theatre as artistic response to social issues. Tarn How also addresses audience members’ questions about the content produced by today’s playwrights, and the commercial viability of a theatre production versus its artistic merit.
Part 3: This part features Tarn How’s “Undercover” (1994), which Robin believes is his best play, and “The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate ‘S’ Machine” (1993), Tarn How’s most famous play. The two talk about satire, English and Singlish in Singapore plays, challenging audiences, and censorship and regulation in Singapore theatre. Tarn How reads from his entries in The Diary of Censorship, which is appended to the published text of “The Lady of Soul” and documents his experiences with the regulatory authorities when staging the play for the first time.
Part 4: Robin has Tarn How talking about his first attempts at play-writing. Tarn How wrote “Home” (1993) during his stint at TheatreWork’s Writers’ Lab, which the two former participants discuss. They also talk about the landscape of play-writing and theatre in the early 1990s. Robin ends off this journey through Tarn How’s works with his earliest successes — “Two Men, Three Struggles” (1987) and “In Praise of the Dentist” (1986, co-written with his wife), award-winning submissions to the NUS-Shell Short Play Competition. During the audience Q&A, the discussion returns to differences between the generations of Singaporean playwrights.