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These are exactly the types of Singapore stories that the world would be fascinated to watch: raw, real, riveting and resonant.

Theatre Review (Singapore): Wild Rice’s ‘Hotel’ by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten

Critically acclaimed across all media at 2015’s Singapore International Festival of Arts, and having swept four awards at this year’s M1-Straits Times Life Theatre Awards including the award for Production of the Year, Wild Rice’s production of Hotel returns for a second run at LaSalle College of the Arts’ Singapore Airlines Theatre from June 30th to July 24th, 2016.

Written by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, and directed by Ivan Heng and Glen Goei, Hotel is an epic play in two parts that collectively span almost five hours to tell the tale of a hotel in 1915, built during Singapore’s British colonial period and modeled after the island’s iconic Raffles Hotel. Across 100 years, we see vignettes depicting each decade and learn how connected to each other the guests of the hotels are across the century, culminating in Singapore’s 50th birthday last year.

STF16 - HOTEL by W!LD RICE pic 2

From a young bride finding out more about the questionable pleasures that interest her husband, to an abused Chinese maid, to a Malay-Japanese couple finding themselves torn as World War II ends, to the complexities of real feelings at an interracial wedding and how terrorism has unfairly turned innocent Muslims into the ‘usual suspects’, Hotel’s stories set in the past easily mirror current situations, subtly but effectively.

Sa’at and Vaderstraaten have penned engaging stories that excite as much as they intrigue. The show is especially fun when stories intertwine. Most are absolutely superb and captivating, and maybe because of this, a couple pale, albeit only in comparison – notably the 1935 story of a séance with a skeptical Brit; the 1955 segment about P. Ramlee wanting to direct a more truthful movie; and the 1975 vignette about an encounter with transvestites who experiment with drugs. These tales were full of slapstick, but could’ve used more witty humour or emotional heft.

Having said that, the acting by the entire ensemble is splendid, and whilst trying to spot standouts is difficult, special mention has to be made of Julie Wee who exudes such natural and effortless skills that she is completely believable and convincing in diverse roles as a newly wedded English bride in 1915, a local bride in 1995, and in 2015 an Australian chef; Wee also genuinely portrays a wannabe actress in between, in the 1955 P.Ramlee story.

Another standout is Sharda Harrison who speaks Japanese, Malay and English across several tales that have her playing across a myriad of ethnicities, ages and accents, to remarkable perfection.

Also of an astoundingly high standard are the costumes that change with the times, and the set design which seamlessly changes furniture and wallpapers across the hundred years of depiction.

Don’t expect Hotel to have happy endings and unrealistic closures. Much like life itself, Hotel shows that sometimes a mother’s love is heartbreakingly not returned, and that oftentimes romantic love doesn’t survive pragmatic matters: at times racist parents will never truly accept someone of another race marrying into the family.

Whilst most of the usual Singapore stories tend to paint an idealistic but terribly sanitized, unrealistic and unsound image of all races in Singapore getting along, sitting together under the tree, holding hands and singing Kumbaya, Sa’at and Vanderstraaten are not afraid of painting things as they truly are at times.

And this is where Hotel shines: in its astute, unadulterated and sensible view of Singapore. It is precisely because of this that Hotel needs to travel beyond our tiny island state. These are exactly the types of Singapore stories that the world would be fascinated to watch: raw, real, riveting and resonant.

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

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

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