Preview Guide

Dangerous liaisons, ‘Syonan-to’ style

By Jo TanEvents - 24 March 2014 11:10 AM | Updated 25 March 2014

Dangerous liaisons, ‘Syonan-to’ style

A veteran performer and teacher of theatre in both Singapore and Los Angeles, Caleb Goh is normally cool and not easily disturbed, but not on the day of this interview.

“I'm... I am in a difficult headspace,” he slurred slightly, his accent defecting back to the American one he has acquired after 11 years of performing in the United States. “This character, the decisions he has to make, all put me in a difficult space.”

Goh plays a conflicted World War II Japanese soldier in Dick Lee's new biographical play, ‘Rising Son’.

Playing at the DBS Arts Centre in Singapore from 27 March to 12 April, the show is based on the experiences of Lee's then teenage father, Sunny Lee Kip Lee, during the Japanese Occupation.

The production stars Goh as Hiro, alongside TV and theatre actor Tan Shou Chen, who plays Sunny, and Life! Theatre Awards favourite Seong Hui Xuan who plays Sunny's wide-eyed sister Ruby.

Seong said: “I love how (this show) provides a very different perspective on the war from what I think most people would expect. It’s not about countries, politics or armies. I think it's really more about the relationships on a personal level that could be, and were, formed amid the conflict.”

And the relationships are complicated.

Goh's Hiro is a soldier who become friends with Sunny, and then falls in love with Ruby.

Goh said: “Many families have horror stories about the Japanese Occupation, but mine is fine with me playing this man. Because he's not like your typical aggressor. He's not a man of peace, but he's definitely not a man of war. He wants to find humanity within the chaos and brutality of battle.

“It's not easy. How do you get someone to look you in the eye when they're bowing all the time and want to flee as soon as possible? Yet my character tries to get Sunny and Ruby to understand that he's not there to torture them or make life difficult, he just wants a friend. At the same time, he has to make some very dark choices.”

As these characters were based on people in real life, both Seong and Goh have been working hard to do them justice.

Goh said: “Other than the language, I did a lot of research on traditional decorum in Japan. Like the different types of bows, and how you bow according to rank and status, and who you're addressing, not to mention other research on Japanese war culture.”

As for Seong, she said: “I'm playing Dick Lee's aunt, so yes, I am very stressed that I have to do it well.”

She studied the spoken accents of Peranakans, but she knew she did not have to “imitate a specific person, because Ruby is based on two of Dick's aunts, amalgamated into one”.

Indeed, Ruby is not a passive young woman. “She's sweet and well brought up, but also a bit of a rebel. She's very curious about everything around her, probably a product of being sheltered by her parents and being literally house-bound during the Occupation. She wants to break free from the sheltered prison of her home, and I think part of Ruby's attraction to Hiro is that he's from a completely different world,” Seong said of her character.

With all the drama happening, it may be difficult to believe that ‘Rising Son’is based on completely true events.

Goh vouched that ‘Rising Son’ “is almost completely fact”, and the play is going to tear down some common perceptions about Singapore history.

He said: “Hiro, Ruby and Sunny try to push boundaries. They try to defy their positions, their fates… even though there are some relationships that do not have a happy ending.”

As to whether the relationship between Hiro and Ruby is one of those, Seong and Goh have one unanimous answer: “Come watch the show to find out.”

‘Rising Son’ | Date: 27 March to 12 April 2014 | Time: Tues 4pm; Wed-Thu 8pm; Fri-Sat 4pm, 8pm | Venue: DBS Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road | Tickets: $35-$55 from Sistic

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)