Learn about an integral part of Singapore’s heritage with the talented members of young and wild’s second cohort as they perform in their graduation play, Swordfish + Concubine: Fall of Singapura.
Based on two tales from the Sejaraj Melayu (the Malay Annals), Swordfish is about Hang Nadim, a kampong boy who boldly speaks up and saves a kingdom from a bloody swordfish attack, though he ends up being executed for being a political threat. Legend has it that it’s his blood that stained the soil of Bukit Merah red.
Concubine beings with a pact made between Sang Nila Utama and Demang Lebar Daun, the chief of Palembang – they promise that future rulers and subjects treat each other with respect. However a few generations later, the concubine Nurhalisa is falsely accused of a crime and executed. This breaks the pact and a curse is unleashed onto Singapura.
Jonathan Lim, director of Swordfish + Concubine: Fall of Singapura tells us a little bit more about the play and his experiences.
What’s the biggest challenge you find that you encounter, when you’re directing or writing a new play?
Hearing the story itself. Finding my way into the heart of the story, the heart of the characters. And bringing my actors and designers to that heart, so we all understand why we are telling the story.
Sometimes, the heart of it is all can be different from what the playwright may have chosen to focus on, and I have to bridge the two. Sometimes, the heart is something difficult to articulate to audiences, and I have to direct carefully, tease it out with my cast.
What have been some unexpected inspirations for your work?
All sorts! I watch a lot of film and much of my staging leans towards capturing the immediacy and speed of film editing. I find it works wonders to use rhythms that the audience is already familiar with. I use music quite cinematically too.
Architecture plays a big part in shaping the world I set the play in. I like to know how things look around the characters, what kind of spaces they live in, love in, fight in. It inspires and informs the kind of 'choreography' the play will have. In plays like Family and Swordfish, creating architecture with movable set comes from this.
Tell us more about Swordfish + Concubine – what was the experience like working on this play?
It was a thrill to handle these legends, and to tell them to an adult audience! They are more than children's tale - they contain so much culture and identity and even politics. The stories kept unfolding and revealing new facets.
And as we matched the stories with research, we became fascinated by the whole idea of ancient Singapura - a kingdom we've never seen, can't begin to imagine! Old istanas, a fortress under siege, public executions, battles on the beach - it was all a reality once. Underneath the gleaming modern history of Singapore lies a bloody and passionate past that we've enjoyed bringing to life.
It has also been a joy to have an ensemble to collaborate with on such a deep level - sharing every decision, debating the issues, sharing our stories and even weaving them into the play - it has been very fulfilling. The heart of young & W!LD - these 7 Singaporeans struggling in 2010 - is captured in the play too, alongside the characters of the 14th century. We get to see both Singapore and Singapura side by side, and compare them.
Brief Bio of Johnathan Lim:
Jonathan Lim is an actor, director, playwright and a graduate of both the NUS Theatre Studies Programme and Sydney’s prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). He is currently Artistic Director of Young n W!LD, W!LD RICE’s youth actor training division, and also his own theatre company STAGES. He is also the creator, writer and star of the long-running live parody sketch comedy show Chestnuts, which is in its 12th year.
For W!LD RICE he has directed Own Time Own Target (Best Ensemble nomination, 2009 Life! Theatre Awards), Alfian Sa’at’s HOMESICK and the hit panto JACK & THE BEAN-SPROUT!. For young & W!LD, he directed ON NORTH DIVERSION ROAD and Caryl Churchill’s MAD FOREST (Best Ensemble winner 2008 Life! Theatre Awards). As an actor, he has appeared in W!LD RICE’s ALADDIN, THE VISIT OF THE TAI-TAI, CONNECT THE DOTS (Hong Kong City Festival), THE MAGIC FUNDOSHI and SECOND LINK (2007 Cameronian Award for Best Ensemble).
His writing credits cover an impressive scope, ranging from WILD RICE’s 2006 hit pantomime OI! SLEEPING BEAUTY!!, musicals like WOMEN ON CANVAS and FLIGHT FEVER (the 2004 SIA musical), plays like PEOPLE SAY GOT GHOST and EMERALD HOLE (both directed by the late Krishen Jit), and scripts on AIDS awareness, smoking cessation, sex education for parents and healthy eating for the Health Promotion Board. His poetry and prose appear in CAPSULE and THE BEST OF SINGAPORE EROTICA. His first book BETWEEN GODS AND GHOSTS (Times Editions, Marshall-Cavendish Intl.)is in bookstores now.