On stage: Shows that embrace the Singapore soul

By Mary MazzilliEvents - 20 March 2014 7:32 AM | Updated 03 April 2014

On stage: Shows that embrace the Singapore soul

Made in Singapore - Rising Son

Made in Singapore - Rising Son

Date Mar 27, 2014 - Apr 12, 2014

VenueDBS Arts Centre - Home of SRT

Ticket PriceS$30.00 - S$35.00
 (excludes booking fee)

The Studios Ten Thousand Tigers by Ho Tzu Nyen

The Studios Ten Thousand Tigers by Ho Tzu Nyen

Date Apr 17, 2014 - Apr 19, 2014

VenueEsplanade Theatre Studio

Ticket PriceS$28.00
 (excludes booking fee)

If the recent Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts is anything to go by, anyone who is not familiar with Singapore’s arts scene will quickly surmise that it is skewed towards one culture, given the Sinophone heritage and Chinese theatre offerings at the fest.

Thankfully, seasoned theatre-goers will know it is far more than that, due to our multicultural population that offers a range of theatrical experiences.

Some shows in the coming months connect Singapore to an Asian identity that expresses itself through a variety of artistic forms, and not just through cultural associations. At the core is a yearning to understand our roots and past to relate to the present.

Most of these shows will take place at the end of March through April in different venues across the city.


Rising Son’ (27 March to 12 April), written by Singapore Repertory Theatre’s associate artistic director Dick Lee, and ‘If There’re Seasons…’ (3 to 27 April) directed by Theatre Practice’s artistic director Kuo Jian Hong, both focus on Singapore’s past and the global present.

‘Rising Son’ is the first of a trilogy that Lee has been developing for Singapore Repertory Theatre and the three plays will be staged over the next three years. The story, in particular, is inspired by the friendship Lee’s father had with a Japanese military officer.

With only a cast of three, ‘Rising Son’ aims to introduce younger generations to Singapore history through insights from everyday life. The Japanese occupation is seen from the perspective of young Sunny (Tan Shou Chen) and his sister, Ruby (Song Hui Xuan) whose friendship with a Japanese officer (Caleb Goh) change their view of the bitter wartime.

‘If There’re Seasons…’ is a Chinese musical that already had a sellout run in 2007 and 2009. It returns this year to showcase Singaporean songwriter Liang Wen Fook’s popular 1980s tunes and Raymond To’s growing-up tale, touching on Singapore as a global city and its changing citizen profiles. 

The story centres on a group of young Singaporeans who have moved to New York City, their ambitions and tribulations in adapting to a different culture. A universal story of courage and hope, this musical is above all a story of Singapore confronting external challenges.

Kuo said: “I am not sure if this project can be labelled as Chinese or Asian theatre, since it taps into the talent of people from all language and cultural backgrounds. However, if we’re looking at it as a Chinese language musical and (we are) staging it for the third time, I would say that we are all actively engaged in developing and innovating this form of theatre.”


Another offering this April is ‘Ten Thousand Tigers’ (17 to 19 April) by Ho Tzu Nyen. Produced as a commission for The Esplanade’s The Studios, the multi-disciplinary production is described to be a “hallucinatory experience that shifts seamlessly between live performance, video and sound art”.

Collection of the National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board

Ho, who has a background as a visual and video artist, wrote an essay in 2007, ‘Every Cat in History is I’, which sketched a history of Singapore through its relationship with cats of different sizes, and as part of different cultural imaginaries.

cry baby
Artist Ho Tzu Nyen

Malaysian tigers, and the magical and mystical stories that surround them fascinated him. Ho then created ‘The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger’, a combination of storytelling and experimental rock that was staged at The Esplanade in 2012.  ‘Ten Thousand Tigers’ is the second piece coming out from this research.

Ho explains: “Ten Thousand Tigers is a theatrical ‘seance’, in which the spirits of tigers, along with the ghosts of forgotten armies are summoned, then channelled into a series of objects, which they animate, or possess.”

“The figure of the tiger,” he added, “is part of the Malaysian cosmology.”

Beyond the surreal element of this show, there is the suggestion that the Malayan Tiger is part of a cultural and historical psyche.

“After the war, the tigers would return once again in a covert form. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once referred to the period of working with the Communists in Singapore as ‘riding a tiger’. And of course, the Malayan Communist Party eventually retreated into the forests – a zone of refuge for animal, and figures of myths and magic,” Ho told inSing.

His piece promises to be another example of how Singapore art practitioners have the potential to fascinate and innovate theatre.

Writer, theatre and fiction critic, researcher and academic, (Dr.) Mary Mazzilli started writing plays in 2001, training first at Soho Theatre and then at the Royal Court. Her most recent play 'Magical Chairs' has been staged at the Southwark Playhouse and at People's Theatre as part of the Beijing International Fringe Festival (2011). She shares her writing career with an academic interest in literature, she holds a PhD in Chinese and Comparative Literature at SOAS, London on Gao Xingjian and Martin Crimp’s plays and has lectured in Chinese Theatre and Films at SOAS. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at NTU's Division of English, as well as a contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, Theatre Voice, What's on Stage and OneStopArts.