by: Shirani Alfreds/
The premier of ‘Cooling Off Day’, a dramatized depiction of ‘grassroots’ sentiments of the 2011 Singapore General Elections (‘GE’), played to a full house last night at the Drama Centre. Prior to this year, it could be said that one generally did not expect much by way of ‘political play’ in Singapore, but this left me more than pleasantly surprised – even proud.
Based on a series of interviews with Singaporeans of varying backgrounds, the play was witty, funny, replete with one-liner ‘insider’ Singlish and General Election (GE) jokes, and encapsulated a good range of views and emotions that the GE had engendered.
The whole thing was topped off with an unpretentious and local tone that was unmistakeably ‘ours’ and truly ‘ours’ as Singaporeans.
There was so much 'Singaporean' in the play that I was tempted to lead a standing ovation at the end of it, and certainly after the first half which ended with a skilfully choreographed hawker scene with brilliant metaphorical references to hallmark election events (read: Touchy Issues and Statements Made)!
So what made it so enjoyable?
Needless to say, it’s writing was flawless. Alfian Sa’at’s transformation of the interviews into presentation for the stage was admirable, as was the co-direction of Ivan Heng and Jo Kukathas. (The latter also played several of the characters in the play).
Avoiding boring soliloquies that could so easily have been the outcome of the presentation of interviews, characters (some larger-than-life!) were colourful and amusing.
Perhaps a tad dramatized to be stereotypical, the persons represented (whose names, ages, races and backgrounds were flashed overhead as they spoke), were nonetheless identifiable, their relatable issues often pulling at heartstrings as poignant and serious reminders of what the GE had signified to some – a chance to be heard.
Or the heavy realisation that there is no cure for the forgotten and the disillusioned, or, as one of the characters, TOC's very own Joshua Chiang stated, that ‘there is no Messiah’ for political change and we should not look to others.
Humour, quite central to the script together with moments of engendered audience participation, provided an overall light-hearted and casual atmosphere that was smoothly executed by the star-studded cast each playing a variety of characters that included veterans such as Neo Swee Lin and Tan Kheng Hua.
Just how was such an endeavour executed on our sunny shores one might ask?
The play candidly explored views (as its blurb states) “from election candidates to pro-establishment civil servants; from taxi-drivers to teachers; from diehard opposition supporters to young people casting their virgin votes”.
A W!LD RICE presentation, it is part of the MAN Theatre Festival sponsored by Man Investments. As director Ivan Heng announced, it is an independent festival with no government funding.
That might indeed account for some freedom of content, but the play was by no means partisan having represented a lot of the sides of the coin, that are in any case, our views charmingly re-presented on stage. In fact, the only apparent bias was its partiality to benefits of the “east” versus the ‘west’ (of Singapore) – a prejudice I heartily approve of, being an ‘easty’ myself!
Even more assuring that the times are indeed a-changing with people interested and engaging politically is that tickets are sold out for all nights already, and that consequently, Mr Heng announced that ‘second circle’ seats are being released.
So for a night of engaging and thought-provoking fun with local humour, check out: http://www.mansingaporetheatrefestival.com/play/cooling-off-day.