Review: The Singapore Trilogy (18 March 2021)

Photo credits: The Second Breakfast Company (2BCo)

*Warning: spoilers ahead*

“…there is nothing black about Bugis Street, and this includes the MP for Bugis Street, MR ANG SIEW CHYE.”

- Reginald Fernandez

Dear Singapore Trilogy,

You remind me of many things.

You remind me of TS3235, Singapore English Language Theatre, the module I took where I first encountered the parts of your whole, One Year Back Home and Are You There, Singapore? but whose sum certainly do not equate your whole.

You remind me of the production space. The rehearsal room, the black box, the jokes a cast makes with each other, insider jokes and copying each other’s lines, things which only those working on the same work will know, and relate to.

You remind me of a time, when things were simpler. When we could be idealistic (and no doubt privileged youths) going abroad to study, on money that was not ours, on time that was not ours, to pursue lofty goals of ambition and exploration, to know a country that was different from ours, and then bring back the troves of our treasures that are our life’s discoveries and use them for our version of “the greater good” of Singapore.

But most importantly… you remind me of a time, when I was simpler.

When I was younger.

When I had seen the works of your parents, your co-creators, and had rather different views, and said different things. Of course, I had seen less then.

Now, in the present, with more of life behind me, I can say different things.

I can say —

I love how you retain aspects that convince me I am watching the political story of yester-year being recalled right before my eyes.

I love how a mixture of sound, lighting, and carefully choreographed movement help me understand the changing of scenes (literal scenes of life, not just theatrical ones) and that one moment Hua is young and barely knocked-up, while in the next, time has passed, and she now has a daughter of primary-school age.

I love how your parents lovingly pay attention to details. Details such as the removal of a certain chair, or table, or the cluttered papers of Reg’s desk, that tell me we are no longer in London, but Singapore.

But I can also say —

I don’t love how you retain the exposition of your originals.

How sometimes, some of the actors portraying your character’s speech trip over certain things and that irks me.

How sometimes, things seem static, characters seem stoic, and I don’t feel like time is moving in this “new Singapore” that we are seeing.

But I also love how the artistic portrayal of characters was done so poignantly and precisely, in both the characters of Sally and Hua, and more besides.

I also love how after returning from exile, that one, solo, speech from Reginald to the people of Bugis painted an oh-so-familiar portrait of someone that we see today so often in Parliament, and especially so after the recent Budget debate.

In short?

Regardless of your strengths and weakness, I do love you, but not in the way young and foolish lovers say, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Rather, I love you in the same way a wise and mature lover, who no longer feels any strong emotions for their partner yet still cares for them, tells their lover-turned-friend, “Go… and be happy.”

I realise now, standing from the fringe, from the position of an outsider, that it is so easy to criticise: to say that your sound was clunky, your lights were too flashy, the play was too lengthy… and the list goes on.

But it is so, so much harder to critique when you are the child of my friends, of people whom I have come to know, and know better than the average audience, and of people whom I know have given birth to you to the best of their artistic wisdom and strength.

So — I want you to be happy.

Go, and be happy being who you are.

Go, and speak to the people of this island, like how Reginald Fernandez did.

I don’t know if they’re ready to hear you. But goddamn it, they need to.

And if you are happiest being that voice of the opposition (or people) to them, then go, and be happy.

And know that I will always love and care for you.

I cry for you, not because I am upset at your failings, but because of mine, and ours.

From a loving critic,

Phil

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Philippe Pang

Philippe Pang

A communicator at heart; a manager at hand, but always the speaker of the truth for those who cannot.