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This well-acted production is a collaborative project between Wild Rice's Ivan Heng who directs Singapore actors performing Malaysian texts and Malaysian theatre stalwart Jo Kukathas who takes the reins as director for Singapore texts performed by Malaysian actors.

Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Another Country’ by Alfian Sa’at and Wild Rice

Wild Rice’s latest collaborative piece Another Country is running at the Drama Centre from 25th June to 11th July 2015.

Photo by Wild Rice, taken by Wong Horng Yih
Photo courtesy of Wild Rice, taken by Wong Horng Yih

Another Country is a collaborative project between Wild Rice’s Ivan Heng who directs the Singapore actors performing Malaysian texts and Malaysia’s theatre stalwart Jo Kukathas who takes the reins as director for the Singapore texts which are performed by Malaysian actors.

The Malaysian actors – Ghafir Akbar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh and Iedil Putra – tackle texts by Singaporean writers. The texts were curated by Alfian Sa’at under the banner of ‘Sayang Singapura’, and are presented in chronological order.

The Malaysia Actors performing the Singapore texts. Photo courtesy of Wild Rice, taken by Albert Lim KS.
The Malaysia Actors performing the Singapore texts. Photo courtesy of Wild Rice, taken by Albert Lim KS.

The texts span the 15th century to the present day, and take us on a journey that include Malay poems, Colonial writings, letters to the Singapore Free Press, a reading from the first English play written by a Singaporean (Mimi Fan) songs that portray a happy (and then sad) union with Malaysia, and finally to seminal plays of this decade such as Haresh Sharma’s Gemuk Girls and Eleanor Wong’s The Campaign To Confer The Public Service Star On JBJ.

Leow Puay Tin curated the Malaysian texts and presents them under the title of ‘Tikam-Tikam: Malaysia@Random 2’. The Singapore cohort of actors made up of Sharda Harrison, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Lim Yu-Beng and Siti Khalijah Zainal went through a tikam-tikam session (game of chance) with the audience in order to choose the order of the texts.

The Malaysian texts were an assortment of satire, political commentary, songs, fables, myths, poems, as well as a demonstration of how to make chicken rice.

The Singapore actors performing the Malaysian texts. Photo courtesy of Wild Rice, taken by Wong Horng Yih.
The Singapore actors performing the Malaysian texts. Photo courtesy of Wild Rice, taken by Wong Horng Yih.

All of the actors, both Malaysians and Singaporeans, are superb as they took on a multitude of roles, accents, ages, races and physical attributes.

The texts though is where there is a rather strong distinction. Whilst the Singapore texts are full of seriousness and deep commentary which is a clear reflection of the country’s continuing struggle to overcome its rigidity, the Malaysian texts are funny and lighthearted and offer an easier escape to be entertained, which is rather apt given that until only very recently, Malaysia was always seen as our freer, cooler, big brother.

Even the way the two sides choose to present their texts – one chronologically, and the other via a game of chance – emulates how the countries are: Singapore is the orderly, neat and stable one, whilst Malaysia is the chaotic and unbridled wild child.

One can even spot the varying styles of Heng and Kukathas easily. Kukathas has her actors performing in an almost choreographed rhythm, physically stretching their bodies like a dancer, whilst Heng makes his actors delve deep into the emotive side of the characters for the sentimental pieces and ensures his actors deliver their lines with perfect comedic timing along with excellent physicality for the humorous texts.

Overall, Another Country not only enables one to learn more about the history of both countries through these texts, but acknowledges the differences between the two.

And this play also proves that despite those differences, when the two countries come together to make art, Fadzilah Amin’s concluding poem Dance summarises the effect judiciously: “If only at one point our hands would clasp, What rich variety of movement and gesture could be ours.”

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

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

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