Wild Rice’s latest production, Merdeka, offers a unique perspective on the history of Singapore and how the island was influenced by colonialism. Written by local playwrights Alfian Sa’at and Neo Hai Bin, it tackles relevant issues in a clever and interesting way – and in true Wild Rice style. Directors GLEN GOEI and JO KUKATHAS tell us what we can expect.
Tell us about the story.
The story is made up of many stories, hidden or forgotten stories of Singapore. They are told by a motley group of six people who meet after joining a Facebook group called Raffles Must Fall. All of these characters are different, all of them opinionated and argumentative, but each passionately wants to share a story they have unearthed.
What is the production inspired by?
In this year in which Singapore is celebrating the Bicentennial, Merdeka asks why we’re doing that. Why celebrate the beginning of colonialism, rather than its end? It’s an important question for us because, in Singapore, we don’t ask enough questions about our history. How do we know who we are if we don’t truly know how we came to be?
Tell us about the cast.
The cast are much sought-after actors and we were lucky to be able to assemble them for Merdeka. They are very familiar to theatre-goers in Singapore.
Umi Kalthum Ismail was last seen in Supervision, which was recently restaged at Wild Rice’s new theatre. Some will remember Ghafir Akbar as Brutus in SRT’s Julius Caesar. Chong Woon Yong created shockwaves with his controversial one-man show, G. F. E. or Girlfriend Experience, at last year’s Singapore Theatre Festival. Brandon Fernandez was recently in Huzir Sulaiman’s Displaced Persons’ Welcome Dinner. Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai performed her solo show, Building a Character at WILD RICE’s 2018 Singapore Theatre Festival. Zee Wong was last seen in My Friend, A Japanese Soldier by puppet theatre company The Finger Players.
The actors are very diverse and are meant to represent the diversity of ethnic and class backgrounds in modern day Singapore. It’s not exhaustive, of course, but it gives you a sense of what diversity can really mean. Apart from their obvious talent, each actor brings a certain authenticity to their roles.
Were there any challenges in directing a play like this?
It’s not a historical play so much as it is a play that doesn’t see history as a single fixed thing, but sees it as multiple interlocking and contested stories and opinions. Here, we have a diversity of histories and different views of the same historical events. Who is to say which version of history is correct? Playwright Alfian Sa’at – quoting historian PJ Thum – sees history not as a narrative but as an argument. This makes it both playful and insightful.
What are some of the highlights?
The cast have to switch into all kinds of characters at the drop of a hat. They sing, dance and play instruments. They play different contemporary characters and then switch into characters from history. Stories overlap with music, multimedia and performance. All this will be done at Wild Rice’s new theatre, where the audience is never more than 12 metres away. It’s a total theatre experience.
Any last words for those considering coming to the show?
It’s lively, it’s fun, it’s heartbreaking and it’s an eye-opener! You will see and hear some Singaporean stories that you never knew and it will completely surprise you. As Siew, one of the characters in the play says, “Why don’t they teach this in school?” You may leave asking yourself the same question.
- When: 10 to 27 October
- Where: Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ Wild Rice, Funan Level 4
- How much: From $25
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