Wild Rice is bringing a whole new line-up of shows to the Singapore theatre scene this year! Catch the productions at either The Ngee Ann Kongsi at Wild Rice @ Funan, or Victoria Theatre. We asked the playwrights, composers and directors of these upcoming plays and opera in Singapore what audiences can expect.
An Inspector Calls – Thrilling the Singapore theatre
What crime has been committed? Who is guilty? And who isn’t?
For those who haven’t studied this classic psychological thriller at school, the story begins with a seemingly happy family dinner. The evening is suddenly turned on its head by the arrival of an inspector with news of a young woman’s tragic death. In this Wild Rice @ Funan theatre production in Singapore, the very foundations of lives and identities are threatened as tensions escalate throughout the inspectors investigations.
Director Glen Goei has daringly reimagined this play by JB Priestley by bringing to Singapore theatre themes that are just as relevant today as they were in 1945. We asked Glen how this play showing at Wild Rice @ Funan places a spotlight on troubling disparities of power, privilege and poverty today.
How have the ideas for the play evolved since the pandemic?
Returning to this endlessly fascinating play after living through the past three years has been illuminating, to say the least. The pandemic has only sharpened the inequities between the haves and the have-nots, between those who have the power and privilege in society and those who don’t.
When he first wrote this play close to 80 years ago, JB Priestley wanted to challenge audiences to really consider what we owe one another. How even the smallest of our actions can have an outsized impact on other people who are less fortunate than us. I think that’s a more pressing concern than ever right now, and I hope our audiences will come away entertained but also eager to think and talk about the ideas and issues raised in the play.
What can the audience expect from An Inspector Calls?
It’s a British classic that has been studied in schools by generations. It’s also been performed all over the world. Even so, this production will feel fresh even to those who are familiar with the play.
This is Priestley’s best-known play and it has always had a subversive element to it – a darker willingness to exploit the surreal to explore the real. It’s a psychological thriller with a social conscience, and I’d like to think there are surprises in store for everyone.
Dates, times and tickets
An Inspector Calls runs from 2 March at Wild Rice @ Funan. Show times are Tuesday to Friday at 7.30pm, Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, and Sunday at 2.30pm. Preview shows are on 2 and 3 March at 7.30pm. Tickets range from $30 to $90.
The Butterfly Lovers – A new opera in Singapore
You may recognise this classic Chinese folktale, but Wild Rice and Victorian Opera are taking The Butterfly Lovers to new vocal heights. They’re turning the popular story into a world first original English-language opera in Singapore, with soul-stirring melodies that will take you on a journey of star-crossed lovers.
We asked director Ivan Heng, composer Richard Mills and playwright Joel Tan about the challenges of bringing this epic love story to Singapore theatre through creating an opera.
Why have you picked opera to share the story of The Butterfly Lovers?
Richard: Music embodies the narrative of the inner life and the interior drama of emotions, which elude the spoken word. Opera does this in a unique process through the magic union of text and music. It awakens our sensibilities to the landscape of feeling in a story that transcends nationality and our day-to-day realities. This allows us to reveal deeper aspects involving the complexity of our human condition.
The journey of the characters in The Butterfly Lovers is as much interior as exterior, so song is the perfect medium to explore the inner life of each character. As a result, audiences can gain a deeper understanding of the themes of this drama.
What inspired you to bring a Chinese opera folktale to an English-speaking audience?
Ivan: Many years ago, I was approached by Richard Mills, the Artistic Director of Victorian Opera, to work with his team to direct any opera I would like in Melbourne, Australia. I decided then that I didn’t want to direct an existing opera in the Western canon. Instead, I proposed that we create a brand new English language opera of our own that takes inspiration from the East. Hence, The Butterfly Lovers, which is one of the four great Chinese folktales and one of the world’s great romances.
Our goal was to reach across cultures to produce a show that speaks to both of our audiences in Singapore and in Australia and, hopefully, across the world.
We had to work across two continents and time zones while seeking to blend different art forms, cultures and disciplines together. It wasn’t easy, but it has been one of the most rewarding artistic experiences of my life.
How have you retained the meaning of the Chinese folktale within the operatic version for a Singapore audience?
Joel: I read a number of early printed versions of the story and watched some of the early screen adaptations to get a sense of the terrain. However, I mostly worked on tapping into the human drama at the heart of The Butterfly Lovers.
Once I got going, my focus was on the paternalistic structures that create much of the tension and conflict in the original story. The will to be free, to live freely, and to love freely are timeless ideas. So the spirit of the ancient Chinese original informs this version, though the style and language it’s written in is a heightened lyrical English.
Dates, times and tickets
The Butterfly Lovers runs from 3 to 6 May at the Victoria Theatre. Show times are Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm. Ticket prices are from $50 to $120.
HOTEL – Returns to the Wild Rice @ Funan theatre
After selling out in 2016, HOTEL is back! The immersive show at Wild Rice @ Funan is a multi-generational epic that explores the notions of empire, nationhood, migration and identity spanning a century. Check in every ten years to meet the hotel’s residents from Indian mutineers, Cantonese nannies and Malay film stars, to Japanese soldiers, wedding guests and ghosts. Performed over close to five hours in nine languages, expect a ground-breaking theatrical event highlighting the collisions between the old and the new, East and West, tradition and modernity.
The play was written by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, and directed by Ivan Heng and Glen Goei. We asked the masterminds behind the theatre show in Singapore why you should book tickets to this Wild Rice @ Funan production.
Why was HOTEL such a hit when it premiered in Singapore theatres during 2015?
Alfian: I think it was because of its panoramic historical sweep. It covers a hundred years of Singapore history and takes the audience on this journey across time. But it wasn’t just a history lesson. The audience could witness how some of the characters were responding to the specific historical circumstances of their time.
How will audiences stay interested for the five-hour duration of the play?
Ivan: We know the five-hour running time, across two parts, can seem daunting. But it’s a roller coaster ride of emotions and a theatrical event that will stay with you forever.
HOTEL is history made human – so this is not a five-hour history lecture. It’s full of personal stories, some funny and farcical, others more pensive and thought-provoking. Each scene differs in tone, theme, time period and even the form of theatre it explores.
And you will quite literally be in the same hotel room as our characters. It doesn’t get more immersive or intimate than that!
What role do languages play in HOTEL?
Glen: Do you ever watch a Singaporean play or a TV show and think to yourself, ‘we don’t talk like that?!’ In HOTEL, we do. The nine languages in this play are all a part of Singapore’s soundscape, some more so than others. You’ll hear Cantonese and Hokkien, Malay and Tamil, even Japanese. We have done everything we can to ensure that the show won’t be lost in translation. Subtitles will be available throughout.
Dates, times and tickets
HOTEL runs from 8 June to 8 July at Wild Rice @ Funan with an Advisory 16 (some mature content) rating. It will be performed in two parts and tickets are sold in sets:
- Tuesday (part I) and Wednesday (part II) 7.30pm
- Thursday (part I) and Friday (part II) 7.30pm
- Saturday (part I and part II ) 2.30pm and 7.30pm
- Sunday (part I and part II) 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Preview shows are on 8 Jun at 7.30pm (part I) and 9 Jun at 7.30pm (part II)
Part I is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission and part II is approximately two hours without intermission.
Ticket prices range from $50 to $150.
Get your tickets for these plays in Singapore
Tickets for all the shows can be purchased from SISTIC. Wild Rice Angels receive 20% off Category 1 and 2 tickets while students and senior citizens get 10% off.
Wild Rice @ Funan
107 North Bridge Road, Level 4
6348 5555 | wildrice.com.sg
Head to our Things to Do section for more activities for the weekend. And get to know more about Singapore’s neighbourhoods.