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[Review] W!ld Rice’s Another Country

Another Country by W!LD RICE - Photo Credit Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!LD RICE 4

Another Country by W!LD RICE – Photo Credit: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!LD RICE

For the past week since it has opened, Another Country by W!ld Rice as directed by the acclaimed thespians Ivan Heng and Jo Kukathas has taken the literary scene by storm – and rave reviews of the play have been published country wide. The play needs no further introduction by now, but for the uninitiated, Another Country is the second of five pieces of work the W!ld Rice theatre has produced in commemoration of SG50, and its key theme is modelled after what one of the five stars on our Singapore flag represents– peace.

In an atypical format of a play, ancient to recent texts by Singaporean and Malaysian writers were selected by Alfian Sa’at (W!ld Rice’s resident playwright) and Leow Puay Tin (celebrated Malaysian playwright and performer)—and adapted into scenes which five amazing actors representing each side of the causeway weaved magic within. From Singapore – Sharda Harrison, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Lim Yu Beng, Siti Khalijah Zainal, and from Malaysia – Ghafir Akbar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh, Iedil Putra. What was most interesting in the arrangement of casting was that the Malaysian actors acted in the first half of the play, which told stories from Singapore, and the Singaporean actors vice versa. The Singaporean cast also introduced a quirky twist on the sequence of the stories (by a method of tikam-tikam) –and acted out according to the random selection by the audience members — unlike how the stories from Singapore by Malaysian actors were told – chronologically.

Other reviews available online at point of writing this have discussed the merits (and minor flaws) of Another Country, and thus my decision to review it in a popular fashion of internet writing nowadays – making a list of my personal favourite picks of the 2.5 hours long play. Criteria for the scenes to have made this list were based on entertainment value, technicality from the artist(s) and best capture of historical context.

Malaysia@ Random 2

Mystery of the attraction in Haadyai solved

Haadyai is a place in Thailand where Malaysian men used to clandestinely visit Thai girls for the weekend. When regulations made it so they no longer could go, male character number one and two have a conversation on the bus ride back on their thoughts on Thai women.

Ang Tau Mui

Pork is haram, but Ang Tau Mui the toilet cleaner doesn’t care. Pork is good, and pork keeps her well. Who can erase the image of Janice Koh squatting on the stage eating imaginary pork out of his or her mind?

Daulat: Long Live

The commoners satirically salute their political leaders in Malaysia on one particular coronation

Gold rain and hailstones

A Malaysian student travels to Amercia for further studies and meets a mid-west elderly lady for tea. Hilarity ensues when Siti Khalijah opens her mouth — speaking in a southern accent, telling myths the West circulate as truths about Asians with a straight face.

The Myths that Cloak Our Theatre

When you are working on theatre art, there must be a piece or two that questions the constraints it faces. A seminal piece by Krishen Jit that has been referenced aplenty, it still remains relevant today since its first publication in 1985.

Sayang Singapura

The English Language Teacher’s secret

As compared with the other stories, this one stood out as being the most covertly sexual, and in text, probably lengthy and verbose. Yet, sampled artfully, Ms Ponniah and her class of cheeky pupils come alive, leaving viewers wondering — Who is Dr C? and what will happen next?

Private Parts

Michael Chiang received much acclaim in 1992 for his play on a talk host and three patients from a sex-change clinic. In Another Country, audience members get a little teaser and insight to three different transgendered people

Talaq

Adapted from Elongovan’s hard hitting play, rape within marriage is explored. For an Indian-Muslim girl who is 16 years her husband’s junior, she is powerless against her husband’s infidelity and abuse. Karim and Sharifah owned the stage in this one.

Happy and Free Commissioned by the Ministry of Culture

The cast break into a little song and dance in this one, but slowly the enthusiasm ebbs and the numbers dwindle, leaving the last of them scrambling to exit.

Highway

Well-enacted, even larger than life, better than reading the text itself, Ghafir Akbar and Alfred Loh almost came to blows and blew me away with their startling aggression.

I wouldn’t count myself an expert of Singapore-Malaysian literature, but if i could comment — overall Sayang Singapura showed more politically charged themes which worked the actors into passionate/fiery/intense emotions, whereas Malaysia@Random 2 had a more narrative tone — saying it as it is. As one other reviewer has mentioned elsewhere, perhaps these two attitudes embody the spirit of each respective countries’ people.

Also, what constantly amazed me throughout the entire play was the seamlessness across the transitions – actors shifted between characters with ease – no glitches; be it delivery or stage settings – and even in the last scene which I imagine must have required plenty of logistics to arrange – for actors from both sides had to dance and sing together – was beautiful. I have nothing negative to critique Another Country about, and I sincerely marvelled at the talent displayed, seeing people from both sides of the causeway creating art together, celebrating our similarities and understanding our differences, giving  me insight to the other country. It brought me in a time capsule to years back, when the Another Country was the same country, another man (or men)’s hope, another dream, in another day.

Another Country is still playing out at the Drama Centre up till 11th July 2015, for ticketing: www.sistic.com.sg