written by Tan Tarn How
directed by Zizi Azah binte Abdul Majid
This political satire, about a government’s plan to inject more “soul” into the country, is perhaps best known for throwing into question the boundaries of artistic freedom and censorship when it failed to obtain a licence to be staged publicly in 1992. It did, eventually, and was staged a year later. More than 20 years on, it is still relevant for its insights into Singapore’s politics and bureaucracy, as depicted in this madcap The Studios: fifty production directed by Zizi Azah.
Chong Tze Chien’s plays are known for their bold socio-political commentary as well as for their multiple narratives and innovative dramatic structure. His debut as a playwright, Pan Island Expressway (PIE) (1999), won the Singapore Dramatist Award. A later work, Charged (2010), was an intense thriller set in an army camp over the Chinese New Year period, foregrounding the hot-button topic of race relations.
As part of The Studios: fifty season, Huzir Sulaiman directed a session of dramatised readings of Selected works of Chong Tze Chien on 7 May 2015. Huzir cross-examined Chong and weaved in portions of their conversation into the performance, which consists of excerpts from Chong’s playwriting debut PIE (first staged in 1999) and the full reading of Charged (first staged in 2010). Huzir used the interrogator figures and scenes within these two plays as an entry point to discover Chong’s views on the roles and challenges of a playwright as a storyteller and artist.
A master of political plays, Tan Tarn How is known for tackling themes of life and death, sex and love, national identity, and censorship with wit and candour. As a playwright, most of his works address the socio-political environment and machinations of Singapore. Machine (2002) is chillingly unsentimental in its sexual politics, while Fear of Writing (2011) marked his return to playwriting after a hiatus of 10 years.
This set of readings was an examination of the methodologies and strategies taken by playwrights from different generations when tackling political issues. It featured One Year Back Home (1980) by Robert Yeo, Oh! Singapore (1985) by Chng Suan Tze, Comrade Mayor (2002) by Russell Heng, and How Did the Cat Get So Fat? (2006) by Zizi Azah.
In 2015, The Studios marked the nation’s 50th birthday with a celebration of Singapore English-language theatre and the practitioners who have contributed to its development. Over a period of five weeks, we revisited some of the stories and characters that not only moved and inspired us, but also captured our collective memories and the pluralism of Singapore identity.
Co-curated by Chong Tze Chien, the season featured five landmark plays reimagined in full (with one staged each week) and 45 dramatised readings categorised thematically; some of which were classics written by our pioneer playwrights, while others were award-winning works by the new generation.
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