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Penal experiment turns into riots and lynching

Published Thu, May 1, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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FOR many Singaporeans under the age of 40, the Little India riots would have been their first brush - even if seen through the lenses of social media and viral news - with disorder and chaos on home ground.

Singapore's colourful past wasn't short of riots and demonstrations though, in its headier days as a new self-governing country. One of these included a rioting and lynching on Pulau Senang, 15km south of Singapore, in a utopian penal experiment gone wrong. The riot by gangsters undergoing a reform programme on the small coral island saw the Irish superintendent and three other officers brutally killed. Subsequently, 59 gangsters went on trial and 18 - a substantial number - were hanged for the crime, in 1965.

Playwright Jean Tay (who wrote Everything but the Brain, and Boom) was drawn to the largely forgotten incident about three years ago, and had approached Drama Box's artistic director Kok Heng Leun to dramaturg the piece, incorporating dialects and drawing on classic English and Chinese texts, John Milton's Paradise Lost and Shi Nai An's The Water Margin respectively, as a background concept for the work.

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