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The two-part play Hotel takes you through 100 years of Singapore history - from 1915 to 2015 - seen through the eyes of ordinary people
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Six Characters In Search Of An Author has inspired numerous other important plays and playwrights for almost a century.
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Dementia examines how money and profit undermine social mores and human relationships.
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THE festival's possibly most moving music event is Dirtsong (above) by Black Arm Band.
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THIS special recital of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) is unmissable. Not only will it be played by Markus Hinterhauser and sung by Matthias Goerne, one of the world's finest baritones, but it will also be performed against a stunning backdrop of animated images created by the famous artist William Kentridge (above).
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Cabanons by Daniel Buren and the Buren Cirque: Aerialists, tightrope walkers, acrobats, hoopers, jugglers, musicians and the ringmaster perform in three small-ish tents, each accommodating only about 150 people (above).

Fest's finest fare

The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is set to return with some exceptional works. BT Lifestyle picks out some of the must-see productions of the season.
May 15, 2015 5:50 AM

Wild Rice's most ambitious play yet

HOTEL

By Wild Rice

WITH a Singapore story spanning 100 years portrayed in a four-hour play split into two shows, directed by two leading directors and written by two playwrights, Hotel is arguably Wild Rice's most ambitious production yet.

Hotel tells the story of Singapore through a series of scenes that take place in one hotel room across 100 years. It begins in 1915 with a scene from the Sepoy Mutiny in which more than 400 sepoys (Indian soldiers) rose against the British during World War I.

After that, the play skips every 10 years to show a range of events and characters, from the Japanese Occupiers of 1945 and the Malay movie stars of 1955, right up to the present year of 2015. Other characters that have shaped Singapore's past, including mining tycoons, Cantonese nannies and Bugis Street drag queens, occupy the hotel room at different times.

The room itself is fashioned after the rooms of Raffles Hotel, the colonial jewel that was once the country's most luxurious hotel and today still retains its Old World grandeur.

The two directors helming the play are Ivan Heng and Glen Goei, while the playwrights are Alfian Sa'at and Marcia Vanderstraaten. The star-studded cast includes Pam Oei, Siti Khalijah Zainal and Lim Kay Siu.

Vanderstraaten says: "The metaphor of a hotel is appropriate to Singapore because we have been a trading port for centuries. People come here to work and some leave after some time. The hotel room is both a transitional space and a permanent one."

Alfian, Wild Rice's resident playwright, says: "We're interested to look at history through the people who have lived through these events. So these stories are smaller dramas involving ordinary Singaporeans - not famous figures."

For the scene set in 1965, for instance, Vanderstraaten wrote a touching scene of two lovers breaking up. She says: "Everyone knows the history of Singapore and Malaysia separating in 1965. But we were interested in the human emotions involved. So we created a scene that has nothing to do with politicians - just two lovers saying goodbye . . . That's what makes this play distinct from history books - the experience of ordinary people."

Hotel Part 1 plays at Victoria Theatre on Aug 27 at 8pm, and Aug 29 and 30 at 3pm. Hotel Part 2 plays on Aug 28, 29 and 30 at 8pm. Part 1 spans 1915 to 1965, and Part 2 spans 1975 to 2015. The two parts are ticketed separately, starting at S$40 from Sistic


A masterpiece revisited by a master

SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR

By Theatre De La Ville

ONE of the greatest theatre companies in France takes on one of the most important plays of all time. Six Characters In Search Of An Author is an absurdist masterpiece written in 1921 by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Luigi Pirandello.

The story opens in a theatre where a group of actors and a director are rehearsing a play. Suddenly, a family appears, claiming to be fictional characters that have been abandoned by their author.

Unable to find closure for their story, they demand that the actors play out their story so they can help find a suitable ending.

This metatheatrical piece has inspired numerous other important plays and playwrights, not to mention authors and filmmakers. To wit, anything made by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) or written by David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) today can be argued to have its roots in Six Characters In Search Of An Author.

Although it has been staged innumerable times for close to a century, this version directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota has gotten rave reviews for its extraordinary wit, acting and direction.

Demarcy-Mota, who's particularly strong in the absurdist genre, says: "Six Characters In Search Of An Author is a play that was way ahead of its time . . . For me, it is the piece that brought European theatre into the modern era."

"It begins its story right smack in the middle of a rehearsal. It abandons all the classical structures of storytelling. And, not surprisingly, it caused a huge scandal when it was first staged. Violent fights broke out because audiences thought it mad and illogical."

Of course, important artworks throughout history, that include Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (1913) and Ibsen's A Doll's House, have provoked similarly violent reactions.

Demarcy-Mota says: "Pirandello and other artists like Buchner and Ionesco are the ones who had a premonition of our world, our society and how they were changing - and it is they who allow me to speak as I do today."

Demarcy-Mota, regarded as one of French theatre's leading lights, says that despite the fact that the arts have come a long way since 1921, theatre still has the innate ability to transform minds and hearts.

He says: "I believe theatre has a mission in the territory, in the city on which it is built, to meet the people and address the public; to provide beauty, reflection, wonder, invention and audacity. I do not know if art can change the world, but I know it has several ways of influencing a human being."

Six Characters In Search Of An Author plays at the Victoria Theatre from Sept 10 to 12, at 8pm. Tickets from S$25 at Sistic


Black humour reigns in hospital play

DEMENTIA

By Proton Theatre

WHITE-HOT film director Kornel Mundruczo won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year for his film White God. But he is also well known for his theatre plays, including his excellent farce and critique of capitalism titled Dementia.

Dementia is set in a psychiatric hospital in post-socialist Budapest. Unable to pay its bills, the hospital is on the brink of shutting down. But what will happen to its mental patients - who can't tell reality from illusion? The doctor and nurse do their best to keep the facility going, but the situation gets more absurd everyday, as some patients go into free fall.

Acclaimed by critics since its debut in 2013, Dementia examines the transition of Hungary from a socialist state to a capitalist country, and how money and profit undermine social mores and human relationships.

The story itself is inspired by a real incident involving the country's National Mental Asylum. It was once a highly regarded medical institution, but then shut down in 2008 without any replacement building or proper arrangements for the patients. The government wanted to take back the land for other uses.

Mundruczo says the hospital in Dementia is a microcosm of contemporary society: "Just as Chekhov was able to show the way a political system works in a hospital ward (Ward No 6), we hope Dementia demonstrates the way money works and corruption spreads and destroys people, morals and health."

Mundruczo says the transition from socialism and communism to capitalism saw many European countries abandoning certain long-cherished human values. Dementia, amnesia and other mental illnesses then become a symbol of forgetting the past.

He notes: "The play is very much about forgetting. Forgetfulness is an important metaphor of Europe, especially of some of its countries including Hungary. There is a well-known old Hungarian song saying: 'All I can remember is what was nice.' That is also how we, as a nation, deal with our past and make up a new reality . . . The play is a diagnosis of Hungary."

Since its debut two years ago, Dementia has played to full houses in its home country. One critic described it as a "well-acted and strikingly staged indictment of the status quo that presents itself as a revolt within a psychiatric hospital".

Mundruczo adds: "It releases a lot of feelings and ideas that have been buried deep inside the Hungarian people. For me, creating a dialogue with the audience is the noblest thing that art can do."

Dementia plays at the Victoria Theatre from Aug 13 to 15. Tickets from S$30 are available from Sistic


BEST OF THE REST

MUSIC

Dirtsong by Black Arm Band

THE festival's possibly most moving music event is Dirtsong (left) by Black Arm Band. The concert features aboriginal protest music performed in 11 aboriginal languages, but you need not understand the words to be touched by the music.

Similar to the anti-apartheid songs of South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement music of African Americans, aboriginal protest music is born out of a long history of suffering. The extraordinary sounds and soulful harmonies are enough to convey the songs' pain. As a testament to its power, SIFA festival director Ong Keng Sen said that his "face was covered in tears" when he first heard it.

Dirtsong will be performed at Victoria Theatre on Aug 20-22 at 8pm. Tickets from S$40 from Sistic

MUSIC

Winterreise by Franz Schubert

THIS special recital of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) is unmissable. Not only will it be played by Markus Hinterhauser and sung by Matthias Goerne, one of the world's finest baritones, but it will also be performed against a stunning backdrop of animated images created by the famous artist William Kentridge.

Schubert wrote Winterreise in 1827 as he was dying of syphilis. The song cycle tells of a lonely wanderer journeying through a cold and bleak landscape. Kentridge has crafted a series of animation works that allude to the wanderer's journey as well as the larger struggles and passage of mankind.

Winterreise will be performed at Sota Concert Hall on Sept 4 and 5. Tickets from S$40 at Sistic

PERFORMANCE ART

Cabanons by Daniel Buren and the Buren Cirque

MINIMALIST French artist Daniel Buren has taken the loud and furious spectacle of the circus and distilled it into an intimate and austere experience highlighting man's singular performing feats.

Aerialists, tightrope walkers, acrobats, hoopers, jugglers, musicians and the ringmaster perform in three small-ish tents, each accommodating only about 150 people. But they perform without the usual bells and whistles, so that you can focus instead on their nerves, vulnerability and physical challenges.

Specially erected at the Bayfront Avenue, this is one unusual circus you wouldn't want to miss.

Cabanons will be performed at the Bayfront Avenue on Sept 2-6 at 8pm. Tickets at S$80 from Sistic