If I were to name a musical that was most memorable to me, it would definitely be The Phantom of the Opera. It was one of the first musicals I watched in the theatres, and the spectacular sets, elaborate costumes, and the live orchestra left me transfixed. There was just something about the atmosphere created by the grand musical numbers and the sonorous voices of the cast that left me in awe.

However, over the years, while I continued to be drawn to internationally acclaimed musicals staged in Singapore, such as Les Miserables, The Lion King, and the Beauty and the Beast, I also found myself increasingly attracted to local theatrical productions in Singapore. I realised that beyond the blockbusters from Broadway in New York and the West End in London, local theatre practitioners do have many great works and performances to offer.

What Singapore Theatre has to offer

I started to develop an appreciation for locally written and produced works, and found myself immersed in the experience of watching a live stage. Just from watching these stages it is possible to understand Singapore a little better and see her in a new light. Also, local works often portray issues close to the hearts of many Singaporeans, provide social commentary on trends and happenings in the country, and reflect the state of communities in the local society.

One of my favourite local musicals is called “If There’re Seasons…”. The musical was performed in the Chinese language by theatre company The Theatre Practice, and is based on the music of Singaporean xinyao composer Liang Wern Fook. Xinyao refers to the Singapore Mandarin folk music movement which gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s.

“If There’re Seasons…” has been proven to be a crowd favourite with local audiences since it was first staged in 2007 and subsequently in 2009 and 2014. While the narrative of the musical may not be a groundbreaking one, its main draw can be said to be the charm of the familiar melodies, its relatable and touching lyrics, as well as the sentimentality of the homegrown music. The following video shows the main cast singing the main song from the musical, also titled “If There’re Seasons”.

Other local works that gave me a deep impression include “Boom” written by Jean Tay, and “Those Who Can’t, Teach” written by Haresh Sharma. Both plays, which were performed mainly in English, offered a realistic glimpse of the struggles faced by local Singaporeans in the recent years, and these include issues related to the economy, housing and education system.

Boom, a play by Singaporean Jean Tay  The context of "Boom" was set in a land-scarce Singapore which was experiencing a heated property market. The play is considered a classic of Singapore's English-language theatre as it highlights the consequences on local communities and heritage due to Singapore's rapid development.

“Boom”, a play by Singaporean Jean Tay highlights the impacts and consequences of Singapore’s rapid development. (Photo Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre)

"Those Who Can't, Teach", a play written by Singaporean Haresh Sharma examines the relationship between teachers, students and their parents in a typical school under the Singapore education system. Image by: The Necessary Stage

“Those Who Can’t, Teach”, a play written by Singaporean Haresh Sharma examines the relationship between teachers, students and their parents in a typical school under the Singapore education system. (Photo Credit: The Necessary Stage)

While it is not known when the two plays will be restaged by professional theatre companies, I would recommend watching them at the theatres if it happens, as they offer valuable insights about Singapore. Student-led productions of these two plays are also popular, and if you come across them, they are worth watching too.

For “Those Who Can’t, Teach”, selected excerpts from the full-length play will actually be performed at the end of this month in a forum theatre production by The Necessary Stage. From 26-29 June 2018, the programme will take place at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, mainly for students to be exposed to an interactive theatre experience. More information about the programme can be found here.

An active theatre scene

The theatre scene in Singapore is very active, with a whole range of professional theatre companies, community groups, amateur practitioners and even independent artists who create work such as plays, dramas, musicals and workshops that explore various themes across genres, languages, and cultures.

Besides The Theatre Practice and The Necessary Stage, other local theatre companies that you can keep a lookout for include Wild Rice, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Pangdemonium, Nine Years Theatre and Toy Factory Production. You can also read more about theatre companies in Singapore here.

Upcoming theatre festival

This July, you can immerse yourself in Singapore’s performing arts scene by attending the Singapore Theatre Festival. The 2018 edition of the biennale festival, run by Wild Rice, will take place at the LASELLE College of the Arts campus from 5 to 22 July. There will be a total of eight plays showcasing contemporary Singaporean productions. You can watch the trailer for the Singapore Theatre Festival 2018 below.

By Prisca Lim, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore 
Photo Credit: Featured Image Banner by The Theatre Practice