It's going to be theatre galore at the 1998 Singapore Arts Festival. From China to Israel, classical Shakespeare to modern urban plays, this year's line up of programs for the bi-annual Arts Festival promises to be one of the most exciting and innovative to date, despite the Asian economic woes. Unlike the previous two years, this festival will feature several non-local musicals.
The Singapore Arts Festival will be staged from May 28 to June 28. Here is some of what's to be expected from the theatre selection of the festival.
Koothu Pattarai is the only full-time professional avant-garde Tamil theatre group in India, and they will certainly alter your perception of the familiar.
England is an original work by Koothu Pattarai's founder, the groundbreaking playwright and writer N. Muthuswamy. This three-act work, set in immediate post-colonial India with Gandhi as a character, takes a different look at the meaning of independence and post-colonialism in India.
Macbett is not Shakespeare's familiar Macbeth but Koothu Pattarai's version based on French absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco's reworking of the play in his own style. Using clowns, because their make-up obliterates individuality and because of their tragic nature, the production is a political satire on totalitarian regimes.
In India, Koothu-P-Pattarai is known for bridging traditional ritual performances with contemporary sensibilities. And these two productions will certainly show why.
First Emperor's Last Days
Truth or Dare is the essence of this thriller from one of Singapore's leading English theatre companies. Four people are imprisoned and made to write the biography of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Hwang. They are racing against time - the emperor is dying and the book has to be completed before his death. Their enemy is themselves: to write the Truth means death, a lie also means death. And the truth is that Qin was both a tyrant and a great man.
This tension is enhanced by a production that utilizes cameras on stage and TV monitors throughout the hall. The auditorium becomes one large surveillance room. The impact: the audience lives out the intrigue and paranoia with greater intensity than ever before.
Set in an age when China had just been reunified, but a mythical time where this very same China has computers and CD-ROM, this original multi-media production by well-known playwright Tarn-How Tan and director Keng-Sen Ong is guaranteed to boggle and intrigue the intellect.
Journey to the West: Battle at Spider's Cave
Shanghai Beijing Opera Theatre
A feast of Beijing opera from one of the leading Chinese opera troupes in the world. Shanghai Beijing opera has long been regarded as a company which boasts of award-winning opera stars whose outstanding performances have garnered critical praise world-wide. The company is also known for its innovative use of music, lighting and other techniques which lend its productions an unrivalled sense of fantasy.
For its performances in Singapore, the Shanghai Beijing Opera will perform a masterpiece from the Cultural Revolution, Taking Mount Tiger by Strategy and Journey to the West which comprises four excerpts from an all-time favorite Chinese classic.
Superfriends at the Hall of Justice
The Necessary Stage
From this established local theatre group, best known for its original and innovative works, comes a play about ordinary people leading not so ordinary lives.
Does your taxi driver conceal startling powers? Can the guy in the next block do a quick change in a phone booth? What dark secrets do they hide? Are there superheroes in Singapore? Wait a minute, super heroes in Singapore?
Superfriends at the Hall of Justice is one work filled with comic heroism and power. Pop art, coming soon from a neighbour near you. Brought to you by the power team of director Alvin Tan, award-winning playwright Haresh Sharma, choreographer Kuo Jing Hong, assistant director Verena Tay and well-known actors Julius Foo, Low Kah Wei, Zelda Ng, Sim Pern Yiau, Mohd Fita Helmi and designer Chan Man Loon.
The Spirits Play
The Theatre Practice
Inspired by the Japanese Cemetery in Yio Chu Kang, playwright/director Kuo Pao Kun creates here an eerie, poignant juxtaposition of dead souls comprising of Japanese soldiers, generals, prostitutes and a poet - extraordinary. This is fertile soil for the recalling of memories related to war and history. Led by a brilliant cast including Lin Lian Kun (top actor of the Beijing People's Art Theatre, and co-star of the film Opium War), the play promises to be a culmination of Kuo's decade-long exploration in theatre styles and techniques.
Want United People
ETCeteras with Drama Box & Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble
A first for Singapore theatre: young professionals from three different theatre groups come together to create a black comedy.
Directed by Lim Hai Yen, the story is about three flatmates: a money-changer who seeks comfort in collecting of empty bottles; a prostitute with a passion for perfection; a taxi driver torn between the community and his love. But when their water supply is cut out one day, their insecurities arise and for the first time, each gets to know who the other really is.
ETCeteras is known for its light-hearted original scripts while Drama Box creates its own works as well as adapt from novels and the classics. Toy Factory on the other hand is known for its experimental dance-dramas and contemporary plays.
To describe this production would be a sacrilege: for words themselves are absent in this two hour-long production where 19 people from all walks of life pass by a water pump. Their actions differ: some drink, some bathe, some just brush their teeth at the pump. But after they are done, they stare out and react to some event in the distance. The emotions that register span and plumb the depths of human experience.
Throughout all this, Silence is the essence, Silence is the vehicle. The actors' screams, their pain, their fears and their loneliness are all told in Silence.
Conceived by Japanese writer and director Shogo Ohta and critically acclaimed at the Edinburgh and Adelaide festivals, this production, with no language barriers, has left critics and audiences in a stupor since its premiere in 1981. And now, Theatre Uzura will specially re-stage and present an updated version of Water Station for Singapore's Festival of Arts.
Teatr Biuro Podrozy
This Polish spectacle has been described by The Independent as "frightening, upsetting, beautiful and quite unmissable!" during its run at the Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by conversations with Bosnian refugees, this powerful outdoor-theatre piece narrates the genocide and war in Bosnia. Carmen Funebre which means 'Funeral Song' has been known to drive its audiences to tears.
Masked figures on stilts, brandishing whips, pull victims out from the audience to open the production. Scenes of execution, imprisonment, rape and other horrors of war are re-enacted with terrifying reality. And finally, Death himself - an overpowering figure on stilts - appears at the end to reap the grim harvest.
The appeal of the work is universal: in Germany, the play has been interpreted to reflect World War II, in Russia it reflected Chechnya.
Two women in an Israeli prison: one, a battered Israeli woman who murdered her husband; the other, an Irish woman caught for smuggling weapons into Israel for her Palestinian lover. The audience, trapped in the same space as these two women, too are in prison. They become participants.
This intense play by the Israeli company Tmu-Na Theatre-Holon - founded in 1982 with members from the various disciplines - transcends the crimes and examines the bond created by the two women. It questions the meaning of commitment and the notion of freedom. Based on a true story, this devised play also achieves much of its power through impressive staging and the raw movement-based acting style for which Tmu-Na has become known.
Grand Hotel of Strangers
Michel Lemieux Victor Pilon Creation
A production where modern technology, theatre and cinema all fuse into a show that provides a foretaste of future modes of "live" entertainment. Through the magic and illusion of "collective virtual reality," Canadian multi-disciplinary artists Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon create an out-of-this-world experience for the audience in Grand Hotel of Strangers.
The plot is simple. An hour-long solo about a man confronting the emptiness in his life. He journeys into his past and faces his personal demons in a hotel room.
The execution is mind-boggling. A man of flesh and blood interacts with virtual characters as he would they were real humans. Where does the world of dream and reality end?
When the show opened in Montreal in 1994, a critic wrote that it was the "first time artists have managed to combine art and technology so magnificently... Neo-surrealism could well be the next wave for the arts."
Nobody Dies on Friday
American Repertory Theatre
The long-standing American Repertory Theatre (ART) is perhaps, better known for its host of famous playwrights, directors, actors and plays than any other theatre company in the world. Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Philip Glass, Dario Fo, Robert Wilson and other famous names have worked with the Boston-based ART since its inception in 1980. Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prize and other illustrious awards are no stranger to this dominant force in the world of American theatre.
ART's second play for the festival, Robert Brustein's Nobody Dies on Friday, is a black humour piece of work that takes on the relationship between famed acting teacher, Lee Strasberg and his celebrated pupil, Marilyn Monroe - and the repercussions on his family.
When the World Was Green
American Repertory Theatre
For this festival, ART will present Sam Shepard's new play, When the World was Green. The work was commissioned by the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad's Arts Festival and co-written with experimental director Joseph Chaikin who also directs it.
This two-person play promises Shepard's characteristic haunting plot: a profile of the apparently most ordinary American whose skeletons are lurking in a closet, waiting for release. The play revolves around an old man, who was once a superb chef but now is in jail for poisoning the wrong man, and a young interviewer, who is there to unearth the memories for both of them.
Romeo and Juliet
Royal Shakespeare Company
Love, intrigue, violence and death. Family feuds, spilled blood and broken lives. These are exciting ingredients for Shakespeare's immortal Romeo and Juliet.
For its first appearance in Singapore, the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company presents this immortal tale of two young lovers from rival households who take passion and life into their own hands, amidst the turmoil and hate of their families.
Directed by Michael Attenborough, Romeo and Juliet promises to be an enthralling and dynamic production with Ray Fearon and Zoe Waites in the title roles.
White Men With Weapons
A satirical, powerful, shocking and provocative monument to an endangered species: the great white male. Set in the former South African Defence Force (SADF), White Men With Weapons is an award-winning one-man show which looks at an army confronted with political change in 1990. Up till then, the SADF were told the enemy was the black man, but Nelson Mandela's release changed that. Brutal and misguided, life in the SADF ruined many men who were conditioned into defending an order which was out of its times.
South African playwright Greig Coetzee examines the question the conscripts asked and which many still ask: why did they have to go through it all when the political change was a foregone conclusion?
Characters such as a foul-mouthed corporal, an Anglican chaplain and a drug- addicted Medic bring the audience on a hysterical and historical journey through an army in transition: the most disturbing sequence being that of a quartet of soldiers on leave from township duty and their actions which result in the rape and murder of a young woman.
Besides theatre, the Singapore Arts Festival also features dance, music as well as art exhibitions. Beyond the main festival activities, there is also the Arts Festival Fringe, which features performances by smaller groups and individuals. Tickets to the Arts Festival 1998 can be purchased on line via SISTIC. By Kelvin Chen