[Interview] Claire Wong and Karen Tan of ATOMIC JAYA

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Atomic Jaya returns for a new production this October, with its much-loved satirical humour in place for another round of laughter and enlightenment.

Written and directed by awardwinning playwright Huzir Sulaiman, Atomic Jaya starts off with the premise of “What happens when Malaysia decides to build an Atomic Bomb?” In comes physicist, Dr Mary Yuen, who is recruited for the top-secret national project to build the region’s first atomic bomb. With such a heavy task at hand, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the ambitious scheme and madness and hilarity ensures.

For this upcoming production of madcap education, THE RIDGE spoke to the women from the dynamic force, Claire Wong and Karen Tan.

Atomic Jaya-Cast3

1. Atomic Jaya has been a really popular production since it’s debut 1998. How would this latest production differ from previous stagings?

Karen: Every new staging will always be different, even if you have the exact same cast and director, down to the set. that’s the exciting part about the theatre – you really can’t truly replicate what has been done before. Previous versions have had solo actors, and a male/female combo – ours has 2 women, and the playwright directing, with the added jang-jang-jang air of him being married to one of the actors, and the other actor just basically running around like a headless chicken…

Claire: Atomic Jaya is one my favourite plays and is also, deservedly, one of those “evergreen” plays that withstand the test of time very well. The story and characters are really compelling. The themes remain relevant, with some aspects being more striking today because of current socio-economic and international political conditions. The script allows the actors and the director to be very creative and inventive while also demanding from them a high degree of skill to execute well. This means it becomes a real joy and lot of fun to watch as a performance, while also giving the audience a lot of food for thought. I think there are some themes which more heightened in this latest production, such as questioning the reliability of the act of storytelling and consequences of people’s actions (or inaction).


2. What drew your team to restage Atomic Jaya?

 Claire: Actually, Huzir Sulaiman (the playwright) and I are often asked about Atomic Jaya. People either remember it fondly and vividly from earlier productions (in which I acted) or they have heard so much about it and want to see it!  We thought it would be interesting to look at the play 15 years after it was written and see what fresh interpretation we can bring to it. The themes remain very relevant and the characters and situations which are central to the satire are still recognisable and familiar. Also, as local theatre practitioners, we think it is important that we acknowledge the rich body of local plays that are part of our theatrical canon which should be restaged often as well as studied and celebrated, because this is artistic work that provides an insight into ourselves and comments upon the human condition through a local lens.


Atomic Jaya-Cast and Huzir Sulaiman


3. We know it’s been many years, but how did you first react when you realized the number of characters you had to perform?

Karen: My first instinct, as with all things, is to see how I can push most of the work onto my co-actor…*snigger*…

Claire: Wah! It is both scary and exhilarating. An actor’s dream and also something that keeps you up at night because you have so many lines to remember! Seriously, a script like this is really a gift to actors and a pleasure to share with audiences.

4. We know it’s difficult, but what’s the best part about getting to perform so many zany roles at once?

Karen: For me, the best part is doing all this with Claire. She is such a kind, open-hearted, sensitive and considerate co-actor, and she never rejects what is given to her. I’ve looked up to her for so long, and have been directed by her, and to suddenly be acting WITH her, it’s a strange combination of the familiar and the oh-my-gosh-is-this-really-happening-finally… I love it…

Claire:  It really is a whole lot of fun to work on characters such as the ones who appear in Atomic Jaya! They are so – “characterful”. Very colourful, lovable and memorable! And to be able to work with an actress like Karen Tan makes it quadruple the fun. So often on the rehearsal floor, you will find Karen and me just breaking out helplessly in giggles or gasping for breath from laughing too hard. At the same time, it does take a lot of focus and serious work – I am so grateful and delighted to be working with Karen who is incredibly funny, generous and sensitive while also being very professional, smart and skilful.

Checkpoint Theatre Presents ATOMIC JAYA
Dates/Times: Thu 24 Oct – Fri 01 Nov 2013, 8pm daily plus 3pm on Sat & Sun (No show on Mon)

Venue: Drama Theatre, School Of The Arts (Singapore)

Duration: 100 minutes with intermission

Ticket Prices: Tue, Wed, Thu & Sun 8 pm $60 , $50 , $40
Sat & Sun 3 pm $60 , $50 , $40
Fri & Sat 8 pm $65 , $55 , $45
Prices exclude $3 SISTIC handling fee.

Tickets available from SISTIC

Starring Singaporean actresses Claire Wong and Karen Tan in all 16 roles in the play,
Checkpoint Theatre’s 15th anniversary production of Atomic Jaya promises to be a show to remember.

Image Credit: Zakaria Zainal/Checkpoint Theatre