Wednesday, 3 September, 2014

Published February 21, 2014
Life and death by a promising playwright
BT 20140221 UHPLAYWRITING 966968

No dumbing it down: Bright Ong (left) and Ebi Shankara playing blind friends who meet up after death and try to figure out if they ended up in heaven or hell

BT 20140221 UHPLAYWRITING 966968

READING about the religious conflicts that have dominated headlines in recent years so fascinated 17-year-old Jovi Tan that he read as much as he could on the subject and even wrote a play about it.

Titled Marco Polo, the play deals with the afterlife and he finished writing it in 24 hours, winning the Student Category of TheatreWorks' long-running 24-hour Playwriting Competition last year. Written as an absurdist piece of theatre influenced by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, Marco Polo is about two blind friends who meet up after death, and try to figure out if they ended up in heaven or hell. Amid the uncertainty, they begin to understand what it is to be lonesome, fearful and utterly lost, and try to recapture emotions they had when they were alive.

The Raffles Institution student had only written one play for school before, and likes writing poetry in his spare time. He adds: "The plays that strike a chord with me are Singapore plays, that tell the Singapore story."

His play will be directed by veteran independent director Sean Tobin and performed by Bright Ong and Ebi Shankara. This is the first time that Tobin is working with TheatreWorks' 24-hour Playwriting Competition winners but says that it's the absurdist tone of the play that drew him in. "I liked the idea, and found it challenging and imaginative," he shares. "I was quite amazed that it was so polished and tight, as a first script."

Tan didn't have to finetune the play, although if he could, he says he would have made the language more precise and impactful and given the two characters more personality.

The challenge is presenting an absurdist play without dumbing it down, adds Tobin, but thinks there's a lot of scope to create that "after world". Tobin is no stranger to directing plays for the community however as he's long worked with The Necessary Stage.

The 30-minute play will be performed at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and also at one of the domes at Gardens by the Bay, as part of TheatreWorks' Writing & Community programme started in 2008 when the Writers Lab first partnered the South East Community Development Council.

The whole idea is to identify potential playwrights, explains Tay Tong, the company's general manager, and then help them to develop their scripts into productions which are then staged outside the usual performance venues in the city.

"The performance series aims to bring works that resonate with the audiences who may not necessarily often go to the theatre," he adds.

Life and death, passion and religious allegiances are certainly intriguing and thought-provoking enough to engage an audience, whose added advantage is to catch the first play by a young playwright with potential.

'TheatreWorks Writers' Lab Writing & Community Programme: Performance Tour of Marco Polo' will be held from Feb 27-Mar 29, at various community venues. To reserve seats or for enquiries, please call TheatreWorks at 6737 7213 or e-mail More details here,