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‘One Country’ is much the same as another

Across the causeway is but a mirror.

Jonathan Goh


Published: 30 June 2015, 2:57 PM

W!ld Rice’s spiritual successor to Second Link and a decade-old project in the making, Another Country was a trip through the collective pasts of Singapore and Malaysia, one that was often humorous, sometimes poignant, other times painfully honest.

Director Ivan Heng and his troupe of Singaporeans (Sharda Harrison, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Lim Yu-Beng and Siti Khalijah Zainal) took on the collection of Malaysian texts curated by Leow Puay Tin.

Alongside them were their Malaysian counterparts, Jo Kukathas and her merry band of Malaysian-bred actors (Ghafir Akbar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh and Iedil Putra), who were tasked with the Singaporean texts selected by Alfian Sa’at.

The first segment, Sayang Singapura, followed a clear narrative. It was a steady progression of the history of ancient Singapura to the wild decadence of Singapore. Sayang Singapura sprung forward to the present while giving an unblinking look at the stories beyond the typical Singaporean narrative (that tends to begin only on 9 August, 1965).

 

Photo credit: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!ld Rice

 

From the well-worn folk tale of the swordfish attack on Singapore’s shores, to a sketch of two Chinese mothers trying to out-boast each other at a HDB playground, the segment approached it all with a sharp humour. It was subtle without being too concerned with niceties, unapologetic and harsh without assigning agenda. I found it complex and heartfelt – the myriad and often overlooked voices of Singapore’s rich cultural history thrown into stark relief.

Tikam-TikamMalaysia@Random 2, was aptly titled and uniquely structured. The audience was invited to choose the order in which the scenes would be presented, with random chance creating new meanings via unplanned juxtapositions of the diverse texts.

Despite my lack of knowledge about Malaysia and its cultural heritage (or perhaps, because of it), the Malaysian segment was highly entertaining, and in this, the touch of director Ivan Heng was undeniable.

 

Photo credit: Albert Lim K S, courtesy of W!ld Rice

 

Who else could make a reading of how to cook Hainanese chicken rice so humorous? The matter-of-fact explanation of the Malaysian constitution’s hybrid purpose of maintaining democracy alongside hereditary rule drew more than a few chuckles from the audience, as comparisons were made (but without saying so outright), to Singapore’s own political history.

So too was the performance of Mark Teh’s Daulat: Long Live, a series of increasingly witty and sarcastic salutations.

Though mostly light-hearted, Tikam-Tikam also touched upon darker parts of Malaysia’s history, such as the 1969 racial riots. Its messy and random sequencing gave it a whimsical character, with a biting wit in place of Sayang Singapura‘s stark glimpses of truth.

 

Photo credit: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!ld Rice

 

Another Country gave voice to both countries’ shared history and experiences, to individual voices and the exchanges that are excluded to all but those who live it. It showed us that our two realities, Singaporean and Malaysian, are not so different after all.

Another Country runs until July 11 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets are available from SISTIC from S$45. 


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