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The first blockbuster in the local theatre history, Michael Chiang's Army Daze (above), a coming-of-age story about five army recruits bonding during National Service is still very popular today.

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Margaret Chan in Emily of Emerald Hill (above, 1985) and Tan Kheng Hua in Fear of Writing (2012) delivered two of the most memorable performances in Singapore's theatre history.

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Margaret Chan in Emily of Emerald Hill (1985) and Tan Kheng Hua in Fear of Writing (above, 2012) delivered two of the most memorable performances in Singapore's theatre history.
THEATRE

The finest plays in 50 years

Singapore theatre has struggled against the odds to find and assert its own voice.
Jan 2, 2015 5:50 AM

IN especially the past three decades, local theatre has grown from strength to strength, with more professional theatre companies now putting on top-notch productions that easily rival the once-technically superior imported musicals that used to dominate our stage.

Despite the spectre of censorship and the lack of strong, original scripts, local theatre has successfully pushed on to find and assert its voice. Here are 10 plays which, among others, broke major ground in the telling of our stories:

When Smiles Are Done (1966)

By Goh Poh Seng

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Goh, along with Lim Chor Pee (Mimi Fan), was Singapore's first local playwright. When Smiles Are Done centres on family life in Queenstown and is one of the earliest attempts to represent Singlish on stage. Goh spent a year and a half "hanging around public places with a tape recorder and listening to how people spoke".

Emily of Emerald Hill (1985)

By Stella Kon

Possibly the most staged classic in the Singapore canon, Emily of Emerald Hill is a one-woman monologue that chronicles the rise and fall of a Peranakan woman, from a naive young bride to a steely matriarch. Its 1985 Singapore debut was directed by Max Le Blond and featured a powerhouse performance by Margaret Chan.

Army Daze (1987)

By Michael Chiang

The first blockbuster in the local theatre history, Chiang's coming-of-age story about five army recruits bonding during National Service is still very popular today, staged frequently by companies and schools. It's loved for its broad humour and unabashed use of Singlish.

Mama Looking For Her Cat (1988)

By Kuo Pao Kun

Kuo is regarded as one of Singapore's greatest dramatists ever. Mama Looking For Her Cat (1988) is the country's first multilingual play, with dialogue spoken in English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew. It showed Singapore as a multicultural country through its story about the rift between a Hokkien-speaking mother and her English-educated children.

Wills & Secession (1995)

By Eleanor Wong

In the second play of Wong's trilogy Invitation To Treat, lesbian lawyer Ellen struggles to cope with her ageing parents and sick girlfriend. Ellen is shown as facing problems that are no different from those facing heterosexual Singaporeans, as Wong seeks to point out the obvious to the oblivious - that gay people are people too.

Lear (1999)

By Rio Kishida and Ong Keng Sen

Few local plays have inspired as many critical writings as Lear, penned by Kishida and directed by Ong.

The Shakespeare-based play blended Japanese Noh theatre, Beijing opera, Thai classical dance, and Indonesian gamelan and silat to magnificent effect - an intercultural masterpiece that marked Ong as an avant-garde trailbrazer.

Fundamentally Happy (2006)

By Haresh Sharma

Sharma is Singapore's most prolific playwright, having written more than 100 plays in 24 years. Several are acclaimed, including Still Building, Off-Centre and Good People - all of which are directed by his partner-in- crime Alvin Tan. Fundamentally Happy is one of his finest, tackling the taboo topic of paedophilia with extraordinary grace and sensitivity.

Nadirah (2009)

By Alfian Sa'at

Often called an enfant terrible for his outspoken views and bold plays such as Cooling-Off Day and the Asian Boys trilogy, Alfian showed off the profound humanity of his writing with Nadirah, a complex and nuanced drama about a young Muslim woman born to a Muslim father and a Chinese mother.

Charged (2010)

By Chong Tze Chien

One of the most incendiary - and necessary - plays of all time, Charged, takes a raw and unflinching look at race relations in Singapore through the murder of a Malay soldier and the consequent suicide of a Chinese one. The ensuing investigation unearths the faultlines that exist in the army.

Fear of Writing (2012)

By Tan Tarn How

It's not so much a story as a complex series of fragments about a playwright facing writer's block while trying to write a play about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan.

Directed by Ong Keng Sen, its manifold themes - among them, state censorship, self-censorship, political fear, the love of a father for his daughter - add up to what feels like an important summation work at Tan's mid-point career. More than any other work in the Singapore canon, it questions the point and purpose of making theatre in Singapore.