Wild Rice’s artistic director Ivan Heng asked me to write a short note on the Singapore political play for the programme of Eleanor Wong’s The Campaign To Confer The Public Service Star on JBJ, which is part of the Singapore Theatre Festival now on. The piece (with shameless reference to my own work) is attached. Another shameless plug: A group of us will be at a panel discussion on 12th August on JBJ on stage and in real life (see end of this post for details.)

For Eleanor’s play programme:

by Tan Tarn How

The “political” play is a strange creature indeed in Singapore.

There are, first of all, those that are manifestly political. Members of this subspecies range from Kuo Pao Kun’s pre-detention, banned play about class struggle The Sparks of Youth to Robert Yeo’s Singapore trilogy, Russell Heng’s Half Century, and my own The Lady of Soul And Her Ultimate “S” Machine, and of course tonight’s work. These plays wear no camouflage.

A different animal are the plays which are political in every way except in declared intention. They include the extensive ouevre of Haresh Sharma and The Necessary Stage (which for a time practised forum theatre in every way except in name: the games artists play in our dear country!) Also: Wild Rice’s Animal Farm, Pao Kun’s The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole and my The First Emperor’s Last Days (whose 1998 Hong Kong audience thought was about Deng Xiaoping). The craft of beating about the bush is part of the playwright’s arsenal too.

Thirdly, there are the sheep which have wolf’s clothing thrown upon them, plays which don’t want to be political, really, but have become political – or at least politicised – because It Says So. The “Marxist conspirator” Third Stage’s maid play Esperanza is one (It Said So, though retroactively.) More recently, there is Benny Lim’s Human Left about the execution of Shanmugam Murugesu. Benny had to rub out references to hanging and political leaders so It would let the play through. It calls this regulation by “soft touch”. We are grateful.

At any rate, even when It does nothing It watches pretty much everything. Plays included. Again we ought to be grateful: It does help to keep the ticket sales up.


Panel Discussion:
LIFE: Speaking and Quieted: New Singapore, Old Constraints?
ART: The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ

Could the Campaign to confer the Public Star on JBJ in fact become a reality in today’s Singapore? How do we view the Opposition, or alternative views? How do we value or acknowledge them? Can we?

Moderator: Alfian Sa’at (Playwright)
Points of View: Gayle Goh (Citizen Commentator), Sylvia Lim (Worker’s Party Chairman, NCMP), Eleanor Wong (Playwright, Lawyer), Tan Tarn How (Playwright, Social Commentator)

Venue: Function Rooms, Drama Centre @ National Library, Level 3

Admission is FREE and on a first come, first in basis!
Sat, 12 August 5.30pm

For other panel discussions, see http://www.blurty.com/talkpost.bml?journal=sleepless77&itemid=139633