You might recognise Michael Chiang for his hits like Army Daze, Beauty World, Mixed Signals and High Class, but his most critically-acclaimed play is Private Parts. When it was first debuted in 1992 at the Singapore Arts International Festival, Michael Chiang’s Private Parts was already one of the most progressive stories being told on the local stage.
The comedy follows the adventures of a popular talk show host, Warren, who meets three new friends at a sex change clinic, Mirabella, Lavinia, and Edward. He then tries to convince them to appear on his show in an effort to boost ratings which leads to some unexpected adventure.
The play was first staged a few years after the Ministry of Health started to heavily discourage people from undergoing sex-reassignment surgery saying that ‘the increased danger of AIDS with such patients poses unnecessary risk to hospital staff’.
Featuring all of Michael Chiang’s signature snappy dialogue and the exploration of gender issues in Singapore, it is ultimately a story of human connection and love. The play was restaged in 1994 in a Mandarin production and then again in 2004 at the Esplanade.
When it was first staged in 1992, Private Parts was incredibly well-received, being sold out for two weeks straight which is a big deal for a local production at that time. Add to that the fact that it was a story that confronted real world issues and taboos, Private Parts sealed itself as a local favourite for both audiences and performers. It is often hailed as Michael Chiang’s best work.
“It was a real moment where you understand the power of theatre and how theatre can transform a group of audiences to feel something so far away from them,” said Ong Keng Sen the artistic director of the 1992 production of Michael Chiang’s Private Parts.
This newest production will be directed by Beatrice Chia-Richmond and serve as the inaugural production of Michael Chiang Playthings Ltd, a non-profit set up by the playwright himself to showcase Singapore writings. The play will star Jason Godfrey as Warren, Chua Enlai as Mirabella, Shane Mardjuki as Lavinia and Zee Wong as Edward. The lineup also includes Frances Lee, Jo Tan, Andrew Marko, and Hirzi Zulkiflie.
Michael Chiang says that this time they will be sticking to the original script without updates. “Beatrice and I thought it would be more meaningful to have it set in the 1990s, mainly because the scene has changed quite a lot,” he explained. With the rising awareness of the trans community, updating the script means having to make sure the play reflects the changes in the local and global trans community which inevitably adds another layer to the story.
Chiang says that keeping the play as it was originally written will be a way to document just how far society has come and how much has changed in terms of the trans community in Singapore. Like a mirror to the past, the original play can serve as a reflection and reminder of what society was like back then.