It’s a rite of passage that any full-blooded Singapore male has to go through when they turn 18 for two-and-a-half years but beyond the horror stories and the jokes about maids carrying backpacks, what really happens during National Service (NS)?
Playwright Michael Chiang’s wildly successful play ‘Army Daze’ turns 26 this year and it gives us a tongue-in-cheek look at life in the Pulau Tekong’s army barracks. And what more can theatregoers ask for than a re-staging of the play that’s more popular and memorable than any army recruitment campaign.
‘Army Daze’ will be staged at the National Library Drama Centre from 19-28 July and director Beatrice Chia-Richmond is the one responsible for getting Malcolm, Johari, Kenny, Krishnamoorthy and Ah Beng to put on their army fatigues once more.
Interview with Beatrice Chia-Richmond
“To come back and direct ‘Army Daze’ is like seeing an old friend again, a very good old friend that you have not seen in six years,” says Beatrice Chia-Richmond who co-directed the play back in 2006 with Goh Boon Teck.
In an interview with inSing.com, Chia-Richmond says that since the army has undergone major changes since the last production, audiences can expect to see fresh new material.
“The story and the characters remain the same; what we’ve done is to update the cultural references in the script and even added a few cheeky songs that the boys can sing and play with,” she explains, adding that Michael Chiang was heavily involved in this restaging — from updating the script and improving the scenes to deciding where the musical elements will fit in.
One major update audiences can expect is a female platoon sergeant played by Siti Khalijah Zainal (SGT Khatib, after the MRT station) who will lead the recruits through their Basic Military Training (BMT).
When asked why is it so important to expose ‘Army Daze’ to a new generation of theatregoers, Chia-Richmond had this to say: “What we have here is a home-grown production that is so well-loved and enduring and that is why we need to bring it back and celebrate it again so that this generation of audiences can enjoy and learn about it. After all, National Service is still a hot topic; it’s not going to go away anytime soon.”
Army Daze characters (from left): Ah Beng, Johari, Kenny, Krishna and Malcolm
Despite having directed the play before, Chia-Richmond says that this version is not without its challenges. “One of the biggest challenges we face is to find talent that will be this generation’s cast of ‘Army Daze’. Another will be to help them understand the magic of the play; some of the actors are so young that they weren’t even born when this play was conceived,” Chia-Richmond adds.
Other cast members include Dwayne Tan as Malcolm, Joshua Lim as Ah Beng, Adil Jamaluddin as Johari, Ebi Shankara as Krishna and Shane Mardjuki as Kenny. Not to mention other theatre and TV stalwarts like Chua Enlai, Dennis Chew and Norleena Salim.
Despite the military theme, Chia-Richmond asserts that ‘Army Daze’ is not only for the guys: “I’m sure that everyone in Singapore has been touched by National Service — mothers, girlfriends, uncles and aunties — and this play illuminates the experience of the family and how they cope when their boys go into the army.”