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[Interview] Glen Goei, director of play Public Enemy

Public Enemy - with masthead

Come April 2015, W!LD RICE will be presenting Public Enemy, a thought-provoking play about truth, democracy and the tyranny of the majority. It’s adapted from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s powerful classic, An Enemy of the People. The story revolves around the conflict between a man who stands up for what he thinks is right against the public opinion. Gwen from The Ridge interviews Public Enemy director Glen Goei.

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The main lead is named Dr. Chee. Would this be any coincidence with the fact that there is a opposition party member also going by the surname of Chee?

No. That would be too reductive. Public Enemy is about the people in our community who dare to challenge the status quo. This would include those who fight for equality, truth and justice. Not just people in the political organizations but those who work in civic organizations, NGOs, non-profits, journalists, academics, intellectuals, social and political bloggers and of course artists (writers, playwrights, poets, painters, theatre practitioners, etc.)

 

Has the Media Development Authority appealed to W!ld Rice to have any bits of Public Enemy revised for better public viewing sensibilities?

The MDA has asked us to inform them of any changes we make to the script including names of characters and places. This 130 year old classic has been performed all over the world without any rating or warning to the public as far as I know in the history of its productions.  I will be most disappointed if the MDA sought cause to give us one and on what grounds one can only imagine. For our production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, they issued a warning to members of the public that the production was ‘a new interpretation with an all-male cast” and advised that is was not suitable for audiences under the age of 16. So we await their pronouncement on Public Enemy with bated breath!

(W!lLD RICE re-staged Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in 2013, with Glen Goei putting a provocative spin on the masterpiece by casting an all-male ensemble. A comedy revolving about two friends who both unknowingly simultaneously adopt the name of Ernest, the play has reached critical acclaim in both Singapore and internationally.)

 

An Enemy of the People was written 130 years ago, but remains relevant till today. Why do you think this is this so?

It is still relevant because the true and accurate concept of ‘democracy’ is not about the rights of the majority, but rather the protection of the rights of the ‘minority’. Minorities all over the world: women, the disabled, religious, race, LGBT, etc. are still being oppressed and marginalized. And standing up for the truth should be the foundation and bedrock of every society and nation.

 

How long did you and your team take to prepare for this production, and were there any special efforts tailored to the play taken during this process?

I’ve been discussing the play with Ivan [the founding artistic director of W!LD RICE and accomplished stage actor and director] for the past 18 months, since the actress Judee Tan handed the script to me. I read it through in one sitting and could not put it down–even though I am ADHD. After I finished reading the script, I immediately called Ivan and sent the script over to him. He read it and we both decided that the play was too important and too pertinent for it not to be staged in Singapore as it spoke volumes to us about the state of our own democracy and society.

 

I hope that there were minimal difficulties encountered, but if so, what were they?

So far minimal difficulties encountered. Just the authorities constantly hovering over shoulders, being particularly sensitive during this year of SG50 celebrations and on the eve of the next General Elections.

 

I can imagine Ivan Heng and Lim Kay Siu playing their respective roles so well – did you have problems with the casting of Dr. Thomas Chee’s and the town mayor’s character, or were the two actors as mentioned above intuitive and instant choices you made during casting call?

Both are fine actors in their prime and both could have played either character. And both are my dearest friends. So it was a very hard call and I agonized about it for months. In the end, I went with my gut feel.

 

Could you kindly share with us three pieces of trivia about the play?

Oh dear! I think you will have to Google that! Who knows, you may find out more about Henrik Ibsen and his philosophy and politics (which are inspiring).

Only important thing I know about the play is that Ibsen wrote it as a response to the terrible reviews and public outcry he received both from the critics as well as the public to his play Ghosts which he wrote before Public Enemy. In Ghosts, like every playwright, he was merely holding up the mirror to the society of his time. Obviously, the public did not want to see or hear the truth. And you know what they say about the truth: that it’s always painful!

 

What do you hope the audience will take away most after viewing Public Enemy?

I hope the audience will be provoked and challenged to ask themselves about their own responsibility as a citizen of this country and to consider the importance and significance of their votes particularly on the run-up to the next elections.

 

For more information on Public Enemy, visit http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/public0415?cid=rotational-publicenemy.