A Tiny Country by Attempts
André Chong

Podcast 74: M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020

Duration: 30 min

Matt Lyon, Naeem Kapadia and Nabilah Said discuss three productions at this year’s edition of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival – Contemplating Kopitiam & Kampong Wa’ Hassan by NAFA and Oliver Chong; A Tiny Country by Attempts; and Secretive Thing 215 by Lemon & Koko.

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival ran from 8-19 January 2020.

Stream Podcast 74:

Download Podcast 74 here. (right-click and select ‘Save Link As’ on Windows; control+click and select ‘Save Link As’ on Apple)


Naeem Kapadia (NK): Hello everyone, and welcome to the ArtsEquator theatre podcast. This month we are going to speak about the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which has a theme of ‘My Country and My People’. And with me today is Matt Lyon.

Matt Lyon (ML): Hello.

NK: And Nabilah Said.

Nabilah Said (NS): Hello.

NK: So we will be discussing three shows for today’s session. They are Contemplating Kopitiam and Kampong Wa’ Hassan by Oliver Chong and NAFA, A Tiny Country by Attempts, and finally Secretive Thing 215.

NS: By Lemon and Koko.

NK: So, very different productions. And you know, we were just talking about how this year’s fringe was probably the fringiest of the fringes—

ML: Yeah, experimental craziness—

NK: —some very experimental, experiential things going on, so let’s just dive right into that. We’ll start with Contemplating Kopitiam…

NS: and Kampong Wa’ Hassan. Okay, so this was a play performed by students from NAFA’s BA Theatre Arts, and directed by Oliver Chong. The script is a combination of excerpts from Kopitiam by Kuo Pao Kun – he wrote that in 1986 – followed by Anak Bulan Di Kampong Wa’ Hassan by Alfian Sa’at, written in 2006, so that was like 20 years after. And lastly, he put in verbatim texts gleaned from interviews that Oliver had done with the students, and that was roughly around the idea of identity and home and issues… frankly, quite a lot of things.

ML: Yeah. And Naeem started us off by saying that this was the fringiest fringe… I would agree with that, but this was not the fringiest show for me. Yes, it was smashing together two scripted plays and a bit of verbatim, but in a very boring and disparate way.

NS: I think the overall concept that Oliver was trying to go for – especially based on the synopsis at least – was he was trying to do this rough sweep of the things that people are worried about, like, you know, comparing the pioneer generation to the post-Merdeka generation and now the millennial generation. But I felt he was trying to do too much, basically.

ML: What you say there came through to me retrospectively: when I went home and looked in the fridge, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I guess that’s what they were trying to do.’ But in the performance itself, although you had scenes from each of the two scripted plays running concurrently and somewhat weaving through each other, they never really appeared to be talking to each other in any meaningful way. And then the verbatim of the millennial acting students was completely separate from that. So I didn’t really get a sense of confrontation or conversation. It just appeared like an unmixed salad.

NK: No, I think I have to agree with Matt here: it felt very disparate. So there were excerpts from Alfian and Kuo Pao Kun’s two plays, which I think were quite faithful to the original texts, and then there were just these series of, you know, coffee conversations with a group of millennials, which didn’t feel very edited as well. And I just felt it was quite heavy-handed, because it was obviously shoehorned into certain issues: ‘Let’s talk about education. Let’s talk about housing. Let’s talk about the cost of living in Singapore…’ Those kinds of issues. And it would abruptly end – and this really grated on me – with a mobile phone ringing.

ML: Do you know what? I think I’m just going to edit that into this podcast. Every time we have a pause, I’m just going to put some frickin’ mobile phone ring tone in there and then apologise for it. Their phones would ring and then they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ And this happened how many times?

NK: At least five times.

NS: What? 20 or something!

ML: I was going in the double digits, certainly. But they kept apologising for it! Okay, if that’s your transition (it’s a bad transition, don’t do it), but don’t do it and then apologise for it!

NS: But also, when you do it 20 times, then it gets really grating and annoying, even if maybe you had a point that you were trying to make that might have been smart.

NK: And just on that point of being grating, that was the main feeling I got about this production. So obviously there’s Kopitiam, which is a play about the older generation having a kind of conversation with the younger about taking care of this kopitiam, and the son wants to migrate to Canada and all that. You know, it’s about intergenerational conflict—

ML: Classic KPK territory—

NK: —Classic KPK sort of thing. And Anak Bulan kind of excavates this, but there were just very, very grating directorial choices, which I felt did not sit very well with the text. So one example would be the scattering of leaves. I understand this might have been from Alfian’s play—

NS: I think it was mentioned in Anak Bulan, yeah.

NK: A character would come with this huge bucket of leaves and just scatter it slowly on the stage for about five minutes, and another character would just at one point in time start skipping… For about 10 minutes…

ML: Yeah. Or to begin with, the stage was set out in a grid of chairs at the start, for what reason now?

NS: At first it looked like they were in a movie cinema or a theatre type thing, but it didn’t really carry through at all.

NK: Exactly. So I think when I came into the theatre and I saw a stage with rows of chairs, I thought they were trying to blur the lines between audience and actor: you know, the idea of the actor seeing the audience in the same way?

ML: Yeah that was never even touched on.

NK: That was never followed through; they just ended up sitting in a row, and then they would just clear the chairs and do their little skits.

NS: Actually, kind of like going back to what Naeem said about Oliver being faithful to the text, I feel like yes and no—and sometimes I felt like he was trying to be too faithful, or even… I felt that the play was weird: there were a lot of Malay elements that made me slightly uncomfortable. So like the rooster started singing a lot of Malay songs and Hari Raya songs, and all. And I was like, ‘Okay, but what about Kopitiam?’ Like there was a bit of an overemphasis on the Malay bit, which I feel might have been Oliver trying to, I don’t know, not offend or insult anyone because he was getting the students to do like Malay accents and all these other accents besides Chinese.

So I felt that he was trying to do too much, and I felt like also, because the cast is quite big, right? I don’t know how many…

ML: Nine.

NS: But you know when it comes to student plays, you end up having to give people something to do?

ML: You do.

NS: So things like skipping and singing and all these things felt like all these fillers that you were trying to do to give the students something to do.

ML: And yet in terms of acting challenge, there was very little given to them. This for me, was directing on ‘easy mode’. What is the minimum you can do as a director? Get the actors to stand on stage and face you, and deliver their lines.

NS: Yeah. To be fair, I did feel like if Oliver had been directing on easy mode, I felt that he was also trying to do a lot by putting together the verbatim text, and that’s where I felt dramaturgically it didn’t work—like just how the texts were patched together.

NK: Yeah, because they were cutting each other off, and I’m not sure to what extent it was scripted or maybe it was…

ML: It was in that uncanny valley area of scripting and improv, wasn’t it?

NS: Yes.

NK: Just some improvisation as well. But it just didn’t really feel that they were making anything very emphatic or strong.

ML: They’d asked them… I guess he’d asked them questions like, ‘What is home for you?’ And then gone down the line, and these people are pretty demographically similar—

NS: Diverse. No, I thought they were very diverse, actually.

ML: Yeah? You did? Go on.

NS: Yeah. I mean, I felt like, you know, some of them were not from Singapore, and then some of them were Malay but with Javanese ancestry, so I actually felt like there was a lot of raw material to work with, ironically, but it didn’t gel well into anything interesting.

ML: Well, they’re all within ten years of each other… We’re not talking something like Cooling Off Day where you have the whole spectrum of society. We’re basically talking millennials.

NS: Yes.

ML: And so a lot of the time, the things that they had to say were extremely repetitive with each other.

NS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, if you have a conversation with a millennial, I feel like there’s a lot of interesting things that they might say—

ML: Oh yeah.

NS: But in this play, you didn’t hear any of the interesting things; you heard very surface-level things, I felt.

NK: Exactly. Exactly. It’s just, you know, ‘Oh, I want a more tolerant society. Oh, the cost of living is expensive,’ and it’s all these platitudes—

ML: Platitudes is the word—

NK: —which people just bandy around, as the sort of topic sentence of an essay. But nothing goes beyond that. And I felt they could have used these two texts and really sought to excavate the tensions between them without even going into the verbatim theatre. But I’m not sure how the verbatim aspects played on the two texts.

ML: No, you’re right. It was like a load of people all trying to improvise the same GP essay. It was impossibly dull to listen to.

NK: In a sense. And that’s why it felt like almost two plays: let’s go back to the story and then let’s break the fourth wall and sit there and—

ML: The fourth wall was (I mean, I don’t mean you’re wrong about this) but the fourth wall was already broken: they’re staring at us the entire time, even when they should be talking to each other!

NK: Yeah, let’s just sit there and chat about anything that sort of comes to mind.

NS: Yeah. I sat in for a post-show discussion. And there was a point where the actors actually… some of them shared a bit about their background, you know, their ancestry and things like that. And the post-show discussion was more interesting than what I had heard during the play.

NK: I am not surprised.

NS: Yeah. Should we give a shout-out to the actors who did well?

ML: Yeah. In fact, the overall standard of acting was quite high for what is – I mean, it’s a BA programme – but what is essentially a school show. I thought it’s a strong cohort. It’s got Yazid Jalil in it, and obviously we know he’s a very strong performer. I think we’ll probably agree the strongest on the night as well?

NS: Yeah.

ML: Who else impressed you?

NS: Darren Guo was pretty good. He’s done stuff for Finger Players and Nine Years Theatre. Um, there was one bum note where he played an older, like datuk, kind of like an older man in the kampong…

ML: It was very unclear what accent he was aiming for, wasn’t it?

NS: Yeah. But I did overall feel that he had a really good stage presence and he was used quite well in the show.

ML: He played age very well.

NS: Yeah.

NK: And I think Chen Guochang—I felt he had a very good stage presence as well in the times when he came onstage. I think he played an Indian shopkeeper in one scene and you know, I think he was an older character in another one. There was definitely a sense where you would be focused on what he’s doing—

ML: —Very watchable—

NK: —and I couldn’t say that for everyone else in the cast.

NS: You could tell that the actors put in a lot of work, but essentially I think they were let down by the material.

ML: And the direction.

NK: I think so: the material and the direction.

ML: Well, let us move on to A Tiny Country by Attempts, put together by Rei Poh, who’s credited as director, game designer and co-creator, with some playwriting from Jean Tay.

I used to play Dungeons & Dragons, and this was Dungeons & Dragons without the dungeons and dragons—but also with too many people.

So it’s essentially a game for 20 people, split into four tribes. And the idea is that we sit down as tribes and discuss various issues that are facing a tiny country on which we all live in geographically neighbouring areas. Crises face that country, so we’ve all got to decide and vote as a people with our four tribes for what is going to happen, and hopefully that will affect the outcome of the country.

The first big challenge was a wave of immigration, and we had to decide whether to accept it. Our night accepted the immigration—that was me and Naeem. Nabilah, you went on a different night…

NS: Yeah, we accepted the immigration as well.

ML: You accepted the wave of immigration. After that, that brings problems with it, so how do you deal with those problems?

NS: Riots and things like that…

ML: Et cetera. Yeah. And somewhat woven into that were stories, which were supposedly related to our choices, told by the facilitator…

NS: Yeah, so basically Farez Najid was the main performer in the show.

ML: Shall we call him the games master?

NS: Yes. So he was definitely the games master, but like Matt was saying, he also told this story about his family history: kind of like being displaced and then creating their own world. And they actually also lived in a blue house, which obviously Centre 42 is also a blue house, so there’s this weird blurring between reality and fiction. Yeah, so he was basically playing two roles and doing that in an overlapping fashion.

ML: Yeah, so the four tribes were: I was part of the Defenders who were supposed to be all about stability, and we seemed to be the military arm of the populace, and we were definitely conservatives. Then there were…

NK: The Artists, the Guardians, and the Leaders.

ML: So Naeem, you were a leader…

NK: I was a Leader,

ML: You were basically PAP.

NK: Basically.

NS: I was actually also Defenders on the night that I played, but I did a play test where I managed to play the Artists as well.

ML: Yeah. And then the Guardians are kind of the original inhabitants of the land who have been somewhat displaced over the years by the other tribes. So there’s potential for a lot going on there in terms of how we interact with each other, and in terms of how the art that is created along the way by people who were sketching live and sound designing live and things like that – how that could support the show. How did it work out for you guys?

NS: Well, firstly, I wanted to say that the game or the experience quickly became an act of performance, I felt. So, like Matt was saying, you had to vote—but before you vote, each representative of a tribe had to come up and give like a one-minute speech about what you were doing and why. And it became almost like campaigning for what the country should do and what everyone should vote for. So because of that, during the game that I did for the play test, I felt that everyone was really into performing and campaigning and almost like riffing off each other. And that was really, really great. And when I contrasted it to the night that I went during the actual run, people were not quite into it, and so it kind of fell flat, that whole experience, I felt.

NK: Yeah, and I agree. I think for me, what really makes this experience work is the response and engagement of the audience. You really need to prepare them and bring them to the point where they feel invested in the story of this tiny country. But the way it was set up, we have this facilitator, Farez Najid, sort of telling us this story about his own displacement… It just felt a little flat. We don’t really feel very much for it, and everyone just goes through the motions—that’s how it really felt to me.

ML: Yeah, there was a lack of clarity and a lack of responsiveness. Certainly on the night we were there (I asked around), the initial problem that we’re faced with is a wave of immigration, and it’s immigration from, it turns out, people who are genetically or racially related to the Guardian tribe, but on the night, we didn’t know whether it was that there were no Guardians in the country and then a load turned up, or if we already had Guardians and then like their ancestors or ancestral tribes from the mainland came over… We just didn’t know.

NS: I think you were saying the story of Jo, right? So just to distinguish that from the actual games mastering that Farez was doing, right? So the story of Joe was written by Jean Tay, and I feel like Jean Tay has a very lyrical, poetic kind of style, and it jarred against the actual game that was happening in which a lot of terrible things might actually happen.

ML: Starvation, racism…

NS: During your time, there was a military gulag that came up, right?

ML: Well, yeah, you’re absolutely right. I was in a group with this young girl, bless her, who decided that, yes, we should accept the wave of immigration. I was voting against it because I thought that my tribe would not accept it, being clearly very conservative—but she kind of pushed that through, and she said, yes, we should bring them in, but we should make them work. And you know, that’s evil, that’s forced labour! And so when it came time to argue what we should do, I said, ‘Yes, let us have the National Reeducation Gulag!’ But Farez didn’t actually know the word gulag or that it referred to a forced labour camp. And I think with this experience, there’s an ungodly amount of homework required to deal with these issues and to respond to them. And it’s too big an ask. How many degrees would you need to be able to handle these issues properly?

NS: I also think like, I was wondering why the title of the whole thing was A Tiny Country at first, and then I realised like, oh, okay, they basically want us to imagine Singapore and see what we would have done during certain episodes of history and stuff.

But because all of us 20 people, we have so many different ideas of what could happen, right? And we know what’s happened in terms of world history, so after a while you can talk about wars and crazy riots, or like making the old people die off, which was something that someone was talking about during my game—like really evil, terrible things, right? But because the game is constrained by what happened in Singapore, I feel like those two things never quite overlapped in a way that made sense for the entire game.

ML: There was one point at which he asked which of the tribes is likely to start a revolt. And I thought our tribe would, but that it wouldn’t be a revolt because we’re essentially the military arm; it would be a military coup. But the rules of the game were unable to respond to that, so we just had the usual hippies with placards—that was what came up in the text.

So this seemed to be a game based on binary choices. But when you think about it, it’s much more complex than that—so much more complex that I can’t really imagine any scripting which directly responds to the actions of the players making any sense.

NS: Yeah.

NK: Yeah. No, and I think that’s where I also felt a little questioning, I suppose, because you know, it’s called A Tiny Country; we are presented with a map of what is an island; we are confronted with the idea of immigration… and I was thinking about the whole theme of colonialism, which featured so heavily, you know, last year in the theatre calendar. And this felt to me like it might be a bit of a continuation of that. We are basically being forced to revisit what would have happened, and maybe try to forge a possible new path together. But it wasn’t clear to me whether we were supposed to be in Singapore or elsewhere. There is that kind of amorphous sense of place.

And the other point I wanted to make was, I think you really needed to respond a little bit more to the audience members. There were these really interesting ideas. So, you know, Matt mentioned that on the night which we experienced this together, there was a reeducation gulag: that point could have been picked up by the creators and used in the further stimuli that happened.

I should mention that, you know, in between each task that we were meant to do as a group, there were these little monologues that Farez would perform, which were written by Jean, and they would be about Jo, his character’s story: things about him being bullied in school, his displacement, et cetera.

NS: Yeah. I was in a post-show discussion where they did share that our decisions affected certain things that happened in his monologues—but not in a meaningful way, like what Matt was saying. So I think, for example, the bullying story, right? I don’t know which result you got, but there were two possible results. He would fight back against his bullies. And then one is his father would praise him, or the other one was he fought back against his bullies and his father was disappointed.

ML: His father blamed him and was disappointed for us.

NS: Yeah. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough of a change.

ML: I mean, you wouldn’t know that there was an alternative, would you? It does not seem to be consequent upon the actions that you took in the game, and that is the rule of role-playing games: consequence of action.

NK: They felt like they were just two different threads. I mean, you could have taken out those five monologues, and I don’t think it would have affected the game at all.

NS: Yeah. Do we want to talk about the end at all?

ML: Go for it.

NS: So basically we have to make five decisions, right? And the last decision (which a lot of people missed) was whether to fight or flee the country because there’s this external threat called The Organisation who comes and basically wants to take over the country…

ML: Like aliens invading or something. It was never really clear. It was a shadowy cabal or something.

NS: It’s kind of like a final boss that you don’t really understand. And you have to decide whether fight or flight, right? And because I felt there was not enough investment in this country or understanding of what was happening, most people wanted to flee, because they were like, okay, sure, there’s this thing that wants to come in and we’re gonna leave—but leave to where, we don’t know. So the ending was quite a deflated ending for me, it didn’t come across very well at all.

NK: I appreciate there were some really interesting thought processes behind it, but for me, this was just a show which needed to be executed better. You needed a really, really engaging facilitator.

ML: And knowledgeable. For the scope of what it was trying to do, you need somebody who knows their stuff.

NK: And you simply need to be able to riff off the responses of everyone who is there and make them feel that those responses are valid—

ML:  —and personal—

NK: —and those responses contribute to the play.

NS: Yeah. Just to share, because I went for a play test where we could give speeches for as long as we wanted to, and most of us knew each other or were artists. It was so fun. It was like really, really fun—like everyone was riffing off each other, and things made sense.

ML: Well that’s what role-playing should be.

NS: Yeah. So I felt that that might’ve been where it could have gone. Maybe not in a show with 20 people.

ML: Fewer people and a lot more research and I think…

Do you know what? I wasn’t bored. I was often frustrated, but I wasn’t bored.

NK: Yes.

NS: True.

ML: Well, let’s see if we thought that about the last show that we’re talking about today.

NK: So yes, the final show we are talking about is Secretive Thing 215. Now this is, as its name suggests, a very secret production by two co-creators called Lemon and Koko.

NS: Or a group…

NK: Or a group. We don’t know anything.

ML: How many people are a lemon?

NK: I feel like I should explain this a little bit. So it’s a one-person, experiential encounter. And what happens is that we are contacted by WhatsApp, by this person telling us to bring our fully charged phone and earphones to report to this destination in Centre 42. And the story is that we are employees in the GMK Medical Institute.

ML: Or prospective… was it prospective employees? I think we’re trying out for a permanent position or something…

NK: …in some kind of a totalitarian organisation. So we report for scanning, and we are immediately told of our grade, and I think everyone is told that they are grade C. And your task… well, what you have to do is to basically complete a series of assignments to improve your grade up to the ideal grade A.

And then you get texts, which basically tell you to retrieve envelopes from certain locked boxes, and you get a code to open up those boxes and—

ML: So there’s kind of a treasure hunt element—

NK: —A bit of that. So pretty mundane tasks. But what makes it interesting is along the way, there’s this constant element of a dissident in the organisation trying to go against the organisation. So you’d get all these little handwritten notes telling you to rebel, to not do things. And it’s up to you as the participant, to either go through the motions and follow what you’re being told to do, or to rebel and—

NS: And there’s a bit of an emotional thing, right? Because the main dissident is called Cheryl Soh, and she claims that you were with her once, but your memory had been erased, and so you had been a dissident, but now you are—

ML: It’s very 1984 isn’t, it? It’s very ‘Big Brother is watching you.’

NK: Exactly.

NS: And it leads up to like a final task that Cheryl wants you to do, which is to switch this thumb drive that you’re supposed to deliver with her thumb drive. And the idea is that you can decide whether to do that or not.

So me and Matt decided to rebel—

ML: We are rebels!

NK: Yeah. So I was the good citizen—

ML: —Of course you were—

NK: —and I think I should explain: I was feeling very flustered because—

ML: —Oh, there’s no excusing this!

NK: There’s no excuses, no excuse! But basically you have to do these tasks—

ML: And you were in the PAP in the previous show!

NK: You have to walk all over the place, and I was having a bit of difficulty working out the locks and everything, so I was a bit sweaty and everything, and I’m just like, ‘I’m not going to bother too much about these little notes, about the decisions. I’m just going to complete my tasks.’ So at the end, I got a congratulatory text telling me that my grade had been improved from a C to a B, but the two of them got downgraded to a D!

ML: And we were going to be sent off to reeducation camps.

NS: Yeah. Harmony Camp.

ML: Harmony Camp, yes.

NS: So the sense of surveillance: I had jaywalked on Waterloo Street, and I got a message that said ‘Do not jaywalk.’ So I was like, ‘Oh my God, someone is watching me.’ And we were all wearing high-vis vests, right? Like the Corrective Work Order kind of vest. And sometimes you would see some people also dressed in the vest who were not other players. So I think Matt, you got a few texts with photos of you doing stuff you weren’t supposed to do as well?

ML: At the end of it, yes. They’d taken photos from really obscure angles of me breaking all the rules and trying to help Cheryl—

NS: Which is kind of thrilling, I have to say.

ML: It is, yeah, it’s nice. I did not notice them taking those photos and they’re like, one of them is from directly overhead, looking down on my bald head. The other one is clearly like taken through railings or something, so they got the surveillance angle really, really quite nicely in there.

NK: I have to say that it was well coordinated, and you do get that feeling of unease, and that’s something I think stayed with me pretty much throughout the experience. You’re constantly feeling like you’re watched. It doesn’t help that you get these texts that go, ‘You’re falling behind. Hurry up.’ You know, ‘You have eight minutes.’ ‘You have seven minutes.’ Like there’s this constant sense that you need to do these things; people are watching you if you take one step out of line. And whenever you go to any of these checkpoints, you might see one or two people sort of lurking around, maybe walking in the opposite direction. So, you know, you’re not sure whether they are other players or whether they are just there to make you feel—

ML: I was a little bit too sure of that, in fact. Because… I’m a bit rubbish at things like this, following maps and keying in codes. I don’t think I keyed in a code successfully the first time on any attempt. But I got there, you know? But people in these high-vis jackets would just come up and say, ‘Oh no, I think it’s over there.’ And that breaks it a bit for me.

NK: Exactly. It happened to me once. So I think I was fumbling over a lock, and someone just walked up to me and said, ‘Oh, you need to press all the buttons down and then slide the little thing at the bottom.’

ML: Whereas let’s say it had been a random young mother with a pram just walking along and then she’d leaned over and whispered in your ear without the high-vis vest on, you would have been like, ‘Ohhh… I am properly being watched.’ So it was a shame they didn’t build in more of that kind of scary surveillance into it.

It was – as I was saying to you all earlier – it was really like you’re watching a play, but you can see the stagehands in the background—

NS: Yeah.

ML: —opening the doors and moving the props around.

NK: You’re exactly right. For me, I think it had about 70% of all the material, and I think what it needed was just to go that final stretch to really cement that overall experience. You know, we are constantly getting this idea of Cheryl the dissident—could there have been perhaps a call we get from her, maybe voiced by an actress?

That being said, they did do a fairly decent job in responding to weird things, which we… I think Matt, you had a couple of very interesting exchanges by text and you got some good answers.

ML: Yeah. Because I was left… At the end, I followed Cheryl’s handwritten instructions to go down some stairs and wait outside, and apparently I should’ve done something else as well. But because I’d been given this, I just followed the instructions. And so I waited out for about 15 minutes on Queen Street, and nobody came to fetch me.

You had the same right, Nabilah?

NS: I did the same. So again, Naeem was a very good boy, but obviously me and Matt were a bit naughtier, and we really wanted to rebel—but also to get somehow rewarded for it in some way, right? So they asked us to remove our vests and then come out of the building, and then just wait for further instructions.

ML: No one came to pick us up.

NS: So I did the same thing, right? So I stashed my vest behind a dustbin—

ML: —Mine was in my pocket—

NS: —and I put all my notes in my shoe. It was so hard to walk, but I was like, ‘No, I have to hide everything on my person so no one knows.’ Right? But then there was no one actually outside of Waterloo Centre and all you had to do was actually just go back to Centre 42 because the whole thing was over.

ML: I was there for 15 minutes before they finally realised I’d kind of missed a code somewhere along the line and told me to go back to C42. But while I was there for 15 minutes… throughout, they’d been sending messages saying, ‘If you see any suspicious activity, let us know.’

So I was like, ‘All right, I’ll send them some pictures of suspicious activity.’ So I sent them a car that was waiting there and said, ‘He was waiting there a long time, and I didn’t recognise the radio station he was listening to.’

And they replied, ‘Thank you. We will take this into consideration when assessing your grade.’

So then I was like, I quite like that! So then I sent them random pictures. I sent them a picture of a sticker of SpongeBob SquarePants, which was stuck to a piece of wood on the pavement—

NS: As a suspicious activity—

ML: And I said, ‘Suspicious activity! I think this speaks for itself…’

And then they said, ‘Please complete your assignments efficiently, you are falling behind.’ Which was fair enough, but they hadn’t actually sent me the code to do that, so I didn’t really know what to do. I think I was supposed to get the code by going online, but because I’d followed the handwritten instructions, I didn’t go online.

NS: Yeah. Because we wanted the dissidents to contact us or something.

ML: Yeah, we were waiting to be spirited away and become part of the revolution, right?

NS: I thought a car was going to come and like… get me into the car, you know what I mean?

ML: Well, that car that I took a picture of that was waiting there, I honestly thought for a while, ‘Am I supposed to get in…?’

NS: That would be so thrilling, right?

NK: So there were these little audio clips, and I just thought we should mention it.

So, apart from obviously the general context of going through this series of tasks, we are told to listen to broadcasts from the GMK Radio Station, which kind of sets the tone of this organisation and the fact that they’re trying to—

ML:  —Yes, the official channel—

NK: —trying to catch these dissidents and things like that. After a while, though, I just felt it was just a bit of filler. I mean, it just sort of sets the scene, but I honestly didn’t listen to everything. I think probably I did the first two and then after that I was just like, yeah, I kind of get the picture.

ML: It was well produced, but we did need a bit more world building, I suspect, there—in more forms than just the radio station.

NK: But yeah, overall, I think I would say it’s a probably the most fully formed experience…

NS: …of the productions.

ML: I thought it was worthwhile. It just needs a little bit of tweaking, a little bit more building-in there. But yeah, I quite enjoyed it.

NS: Yeah, I quite like it.

ML: So it seems like we’ve managed to end up on a positive note here. I guess we should quit while we’re ahead. So, yep: see you next time, and bye-bye.

NK: Thank you, bye.

NS: Thank you. Bye.

Contemplating Kopitiam and Kampong Wa’ Hassan. Photo: Memphis West Pictures/ Joe Nair


Contemplating Kopitiam and Kampong Wa’ Hassan. Photo: Memphis West Pictures/ Joe Nair


A Tiny Country by Attempts. Photo: André Chong


About the author(s)

Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.

Naeem is an arts reviewer and commentator who has been writing critically about performance in Singapore since 2011. He runs a dedicated theatre blog, Crystalwords (crystalwords.blogspot.com), has contributed theatre reviews to publications such as arts journal The Flying Inkpot and Singapore newspaper TODAY and participated in workshops and panel discussions for organisations like Centre 42. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of Arts Equator and co-hosts the theatre podcast for the site.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top