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Interview: Glen Goei on his Singapore play, Public Enemy

This month, Wild Rice presents Public Enemy, a modern-day adaptation of one of the world’s most powerful and thought-provoking satirical plays, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1882). We asked acclaimed director Glen Goei about the much-anticipated production and what we can expect from this month’s hottest ticket in town.



Tell us about Public Enemy. What can audiences expect?
It’s a 130-year-old classic written by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen – the second-most-produced playwright after Shakespeare. It tells the story of a biologist, Dr Thomas Chee, who discovers that the water supply in his town is riddled with bacteria, just as the town’s economy is booming as a result of it becoming a world-class resort spa. He resolves to go public with the information, but this decision pits him against the entire community whose personal self-interests are at risk. Audiences can expect a riveting and challenging play with provocative questions about democracy, the will of the majority and the importance of freedom of expression.

How has the play been adapted to current-day Singapore, and why do you think the story and themes still ring true today?
This new adaptation by British playwright David Harrower makes the play contemporary and engaging by using familiar language that reflects the way we speak today. Also, David has written it in the style of a psychological political thriller, which makes it immediate and accessible to a modern audience.

The story is still relevant to us today, especially in Singapore, where our civil liberties of freedom of speech and expression are curtailed and suppressed. And in our patriarchal, Confucianist society, every individual is under pressure to conform for the good of the majority. We may live in a first-class city, but there are still many “third world” problems that need to be addressed. Do we stand up for what is right, or is it easier for us to choose to ignore the truth and follow the will of the majority?

As our general election draws close, this play is even more pertinent, not just for voters, but for those of us who live in Singapore and call it home. It challenges us to ask what our responsibilities are as people who live in and continue to enjoy what this country has to offer, and how we can make it a better place to live in, both for ourselves and for future generations.

What drew you to this particular production?
In the highly globalised world that we live in today, and in the age of the internet, we no longer seem to have any original thoughts or ideas. Everyone is caught up in the rat race, and it’s far easier to be part of it and to conform than to walk against it. This production raises the question of what it means to hold firmly to one’s conviction, even if it may seem unpopular, and to speak your mind, even if it means making you an enemy of the community that you hold so dear.

See Public Enemy from 9 to 25 April at the Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place. Tickets from Sistic.


This story first appeared in Expat Living’s April 2015 issue.