Another Country, a W!LD RICE Production with a fascinating concept involving the best talents on both sides of the Causeway. Directed by Singapore’s Ivan Heng & Malaysia’s Jo Kukathas, Another Country was a tour on the history of both sides using Malaysian and Singaporean texts with a Malaysian cast tackling the Singaporean texts while our Singaporean casts tackling the Malaysian texts.
It was fascinating on several counts, firstly, seeing Singapore portrayed & satirized by our neighbours on various typical & atypical topics was hilarious. The petty mothers at the HDB playground trying to one-up each other, the lampooning of our traditional media (including our judicial ‘independence’ that resulted in an apology by the International Herald Tribune) as well as panic and rush to ‘succeed’ in life yet with no apparent happiness or even reason. Yet there were also fleeting moments of insight into our own culture that I personally never noticed before, the hilarious interaction between an Indian woman looking for her cat and a Hokkien speaking Chinese man, neither could understand each other (due to the language differences) and the hilarity that ensued in the confusion of the misunderstanding. Our multi-racial society that ‘tolerates’ but does not understand each other as well as the overwhelming Chinese culture that makes up our uniquely Singaporean culture.
The Malay films of the 1970s & 80s that were generally ignored and instead claimed by Malaysia. What made Sayang Singapura, a collection of Singaporean texts spanning half a century curated by Alfian Sa’at was that despite the light – hearted nature of it, it was an incredibly thoughtful and sensitive introspection on Singaporean history and culture. The different voices which found life in the different texts reminded Alfian of these lines in Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ –
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
We are a contradictory enigma, with a history that included a rebellious rock n’ roll scene (defying the discrimination against long hair and skinny jeans), of left wing movements & their leaders that were detained without fair trial yet we are also a country with an incredibly cheesy Ministry of Culture’s anthem to the short-lived union in 1963. To see it transition seamlessly and brilliantly from one story to the next showed not only that these different voices can exist in our society but also that this diversity should be celebrated much like our economic prowess & transformation is.
Secondly, Another Country was fascinating because it provided me with stories and perceptions of Malaysia that I myself am ignorant about. Despite the geographical closeness of our two countries, I am as ignorant of Malaysia and its culture as I am of faraway lands in Africa and the South Americas. The racial riots of 13 May 1969 that left far more dead and injured as compared to our own Singaporean riots is representative of the ethnic tensions that define modern Malaysian culture. Modern Malaysia is a balancing act, its culture walking a tight rope that shakes on the push & pull of the economically successful Chinese minority and the native Malay Bumi Putra majority. Tikam Tikam: Malaysia @ Random 2 was curated by Leow Puay Tin and was interesting as the audience got to decide on the order of the stories told. According to Puay Tin, “the tikam-tikam will give us an ad hoc structure which will help to generate unexpected meanings by placing diverse, and perhaps divergent texts next to one another.” Beyond the ethnic tensions, other aspects of Malaysian society was similarly satirized including the confusing Constitution of Malaysia which in attempting to cater to parliamentary democracy and the hereditary rule of past resulted in a hilarious Introduction to the Malaysian Constitution. The phenomena of Malaysians crossing the border for a weekend with Thai girls for a measly 500 Baht with advice to never tell them your real name or suffer the wrath of their black magic.
Another Country was a huge departure from their previous play, Public Enemy which largely failed in their interpretation of a not-too-far-off Singaporean future. Another Country was without pretense but was brilliant and spot-on in its satire, refusing to be bogged down by the seriousness of issues discussed. Perhaps our playwrights and actors are best suited for introspective reflections on our past because like a professional juggler, the different voices and texts were brilliantly juggled, constantly moving, leaving the audience unable to take our eyes off the act. Despite the length of the play, I enjoyed every single moment of it. Despite not understanding every act, I laughed along with every audience member at the hilarity of it and appreciated the subtlety of the director and the actor. This is a play in which a standing ovation will be given without thought, it is a play that demands to be watched. Another Country will be showing at the National Library Building until the 11th of July so get your tickets now!!
Photo Credits: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!ld Rice