Play with strong political themes and angst approved?
Ng Sook Zhen / Writer
What happens when fire from the sky rains down and thousands, including all our Members of Parliament, are killed, and the Singapore Flyer is nothing more than a smoking symbol of what used to be? Nothing much, according to playwright Kenneth Kwek, in his first full-length play, Apocalypse: LIVE!, staged at the Drama Centre Theatre last Saturday evening.
In it, protagonist David Fong (the convincing Brendon Fernandez), who starts off as an idealistic television journalist in a “media monopoly” reporting the story, develops a firmer grounding in reality as he sees the uncut version of what happens after disaster strikes this nation.
The day after the apocalyse – year 2058 – a major general takes over in a military coup so that “everything is under control”, while attempts to rebuild are quashed and activists either converted or silenced. In spite of all the gloom, and in quintessential Singapore-style, the public still calls in to hotlines to complain. Worries about property prices, insurance coverage, and whether the Great Singapore Sale will be held are top concerns of Singaporeans.
Yet in a scary manner, this plot doesn’t sound like science fiction.
Drawing from his personal experiences as a political journalist/columnist at the Straits Times and from a notoriously confrontational conversation he shared with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on a television forum in April 2006, Mr Kwek critiques sensitive political issues unexplored by the local media.
Though peppered with humour throughout, the play juxtaposes this with serious issues such as censorship and the foreign talent scheme. The picture the play paints, though with an exaggerated bleakness, is a possible manifestation of what may happen when we suddenly lose our protectionist government and have no one “incorruptible” to tell us what to do.
In an era when local political plays tend to be mild and subtle, Mr Kwek’s script, together with director Samantha Scott-Blackhall’s interpretation, is a fiery and polemical take of the politics of today.
Perhaps because of the constant angst throughout the deliberated speeches of the main characters, however, the play became a little long-winded towards the end, and one could not help but feel that the dramatisation was too much of a political commentary than of theatre. Thankfully, the cast made the characters believable and their language more organic than anguished.
Yet overall, for Singaporeans like myself who find Kwek’s story a refreshing welcome to the parched landscape of critical political discourse in our country, the play symbolises potential, not an apocalypse.
The successful production of this play, without the director or the budding playwright being arrested, is perhaps the best symbol of that potential.