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Theatre Review (Singapore): Singapore Repertory Theatre’s ‘Rising Son’ by Dick Lee

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rising s2Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Made-in-Singapore programme concluded with new scribe Dick Lee’s play Rising Son, which will play at the DBS Arts Centre from 27th March to 12th April 2014.

Lee, who’s famous for his musical credentials that include writing musicals and lyrics to songs, takes up the pen this time to write a story based on his family’s memoirs of living through the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.

Rising Son tells the tale of Sunny (Tan Shou Chen) and Ruby (Seong Hui Xuan) who are brother and sister living with their parents. One day, a Japanese Colonel Hiroyuki (Caleb Goh) moves into the house next door. What evolves is an uncomfortable and unstable relationship between the “Invader” Colonel and the Singaporean siblings.

rising small

On one hand, Lee writes about a Japanese soldier  one seldom encounters in the common tales of war torn Singapore – be it in books or by the lips of generations who lived through that terrible time. We’ve always heard horrible and frightful tales about the Japanese and how inhumanely they acted towards Singaporeans during the war. But Lee’s Hiroyuki is a kind, polite, and well spoken young man who even shares his food with Sunny and Ruby. So it’s refreshing that Lee is able to present a character that goes against type.

However on the other hand, there is a lot in Lee’s writing that is predictable – such as the blossoming romance between Ruby and Hiroyuki. And in the ending scene when Hiroyuki turns almost psychotic over a hurtful situation – you have to wonder if Hiroyuki is a sane lovely man after all or the inhumane person we’ve come to expect in portrayals of the Japanese soldiers who tormented our citizens during World War II.

Lee’s play doesn’t quite work as a character-study nor as a unique story –  given this fall back on stereotypes, both in narrative and characterisation. The story feels rather light and the characters are somewhat formulaic, and the whole production has a “been there” sort of feeling as nothing new or special is unleashed.

With so many plays and movies having tackled the Japanese Occupation, it is going to be an arduous task to find new ground to thrill audiences with this theme. Unfortunately, Lee made a good effort, but he didn’t quite hit the mark.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.