Wong Souk Yee and Chng Suan Tze, playwrights and directors of the defunct Third Stage are back after more than 20 years’ absence from the Singapore theatre scene. They are bringing Square Moon, a play about detention without trial, with which they had real-life close encounters, to the UCC Theatre on 20 and 21 December. Square Moon combines the artistry and commitment of award-winning director Peter Sau and theatre veterans like Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin, as well as some of the most sassy actors and designers of Singapore theatre. Together, they infiltrate the underworld of forced confessions and power shifts. Square Moon has been given a R18 rating from the Media Development Authority (MDA).
Interview with Wong Souk Yee, playwright for Square Moon
1.Why did you write this play, Square Moon ?
It all started with the incident of the Mas Selamat escape. As you know, Mas Selamat was detained at the Whitley Road Detention Centre where I had spent 15 months in 1987 and 1988. The escape of Mas Selamat provides rich material for a political play and my own personal experience in political detention has given me rare insights for creating the characters and scenes for Square Moon.
2. Can you tell us more about your involvement in theatre prior to your arrest?
I was one of the founders of the theatre group Third Stage. From 1983 to 1986, Third Stage produced a total of eight plays, written and developed by its members, on issues and themes that depicted the follies and foibles of policy makers and Singaporeans in general, such as the graduate mothers’ scheme, the hothouse effect of the education policy, and foreign domestic workers.
3. How much of the play draws on your personal encounter?
The plot of the play is of course 100% fictional though it has quite universal themes about power and its corrosive effect. I would think that most writers draw on their personal experiences to develop their creative works, and I am no different. I’d like to think that in writing the play, I must have brought in my world views and thoughts which are shaped not only by my detention but also by my encounters with people on the street, newspaper reports, books that I have read.
4. So what is this play about?
All hell breaks loose when alleged terrorist, Golden Hartono, breaks out of prison. The Homeland Security Department and its henchmen must find a way to cover up their security blunder. And fast, for Hartono’s lawyer, Kristina Hu, is coming the next day to take instructions from her client to challenge the government for illegal detention. They get another detainee, River Yang, to do a little job for them. When Kristina visits Hartono (unaware that he has already escaped), she herself is detained when she attempts to call the press over the torture of her client. In detention, Kristina writes statements which incriminate herself. How is she going to be freed?
Six months later, River Yang who is associated with the Liberal Socialist Party, gains his freedom when his party wins the general election. He promises Kristina that he will “do his damnedest” to secure her release. Can he?
5. After the play was dropped from the M1 Fringe Festival this year, why did you persist to have it staged?
I thought there was no reason why I could not do it on my own with the help of my friends. I submitted the script to the MDA to apply for an arts and entertainment licence. Once I received a positive reply from the MDA, it was full steam ahead. I got Chng Suan Tze to help me produce the play, Peter Sau to direct it and an amazing cast led by Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin.
6. What is so special about Square Moon?
It will be my first play after 26 years absence from the theatre. I’m testing the waters again. In our society, a fine line separates the oppressor and the victim. Does the oppressor have absolute power and is the victim completely powerless? You decide.
By bringing Square Moon to fruition, the director, Peter Sau, the cast led by Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin, and the crew are each in their own way pushing the boundaries of theatre.
7. What do you hope to achieve with this play?
I hope more people would become aware of detention without trial and that all our Members of Parliament would come to watch Square Moon. Besides helping us to fill the house, it is hoped that the play could provoke the MPs to have a robust debate in parliament on the need to keep the Internal Security Act. .
8. What are your thoughts on Square Moon finally seeing the light of day?
My first thought is that it has sent my blood pressure through the roof. Secondly, Square Moon has been in gestation for two years, so, when it hits the stage on 20 and 21 December, it will be like a cathartic delivery of a poor baby who has struggled to come out and see the world.
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Square Moon will be staged at the University Culture Centre (UCC) Theatre
- 20 December 2013, Friday 8 pm
- 21 December 2013, Saturday 3 pm and 8 pm
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