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Daniel York as Hitler in Chong Tze Chien's play Starring Hitler as Jekyll and Hyde.

Examining an attitude that has global resonance today

16/09/2016 - 05:50

IN 2014, anti-immigrant sentiments dogged local headlines. For playwright Chong Tze Chien, it drew comparisons to Germany, before the rise of Hitler. "If you read about it, this is the sentiment that was prevalent at the time before the Holocaust," shares the company director of The Finger Players.

He did months of research before penning Starring Hitler as Jekyll and Hyde, addressing xenophobia and its consequences in Singapore. Fast-forward two years, and Chong's play - staged commercially for the first time - has global resonance as xenophobia in various countries dominates the media today.

The play alludes to the tension between locals and foreigners and Chong borrows from literature by making Jekyll a young painter by day, who turns into Hitler by night.

The allegorical play within a play is narrated by Eva Braun, Hitler's wife. She explains Hitler's horrific deeds in the form of a parable, on how he subjugated the people, while killing non-natives to preserve the lineage of his countrymen.

Meanwhile, Jekyll the young painter rises in stature and wealth as his alter-ego coerces the population into building galleries and museums, and commissioning artworks to pay homage to himself.

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As the country enters the dark ages, a police inspector is tasked to uncover the true identity of Hitler and stop his killings.

Besides collapsing history and fiction, Chong also throws art into the mix by looking at Hitler's interest and the role it played in the Third Reich.

What he hopes to highlight is that this xenophobia in Germany set the stage for Hitler, says Chong.

"It's this mood among the ordinary people that enabled the Jewish Holocaust. What I want to show is that ordinary people were able to do something about it," he explains.

There are "uncanny similarities" between xenophobia in Singapore today and mid-20th century Germany, and Hitler's vitriolic speeches against assimilation, Chong believes.

There were Germans who were against Hitler's policies, of course, but would the Holocaust have happened if more people spoke up against it? That's an interesting hypothesis to explore.

Chong is no stranger to history-based plays. His Turn By Turn We Turn (2011) was a biopic on a traditional Chinese hand puppetry troupe and before that, Furthest North, Deepest South (2004) was on the eunuch Cheng Ho.

Starring Hitler is the first in the trilogy that Chong hopes to write, he says. He has completed the second instalment and as part of his playwriting fellowship at Centre 42 (C42), he also visited Europe for further research. The Fuhrer's Work (working title) is set in a contemporary setting focused on Hitler's paintings as its springboard.

Chong wrote Starring Hitler for the graduating students of LaSalle's Theatre programme in 2014, so this is the first commercial staging of the play.

The play will be helmed by Daniel York as Hitler, and the cast includes Edith Podesta, Lian Sutton, Julius Foo, Jo Kukathas and Joshua Lim.

  • Starring Hitler as Jekyll and Hyde will play from Oct 13-15 at Victoria Theatre. For tickets, please go to