The Necessary Stage is no stranger to controversy, with its creative team detained by the government in 1987, as allegedly being part of a Marxist conspiracy.
This is just one of the many incidents Manifesto alludes to in its two hour run. Devised by members of both The Necessary Stage and Dramabox, Manifesto involves some of the very best talents working in theatre today, from multimedia artist Loo Zihan, to actors like Siti K, who amazes with every performance, and Neo Haibin, one of the more prominent members of Dramabox.
Manifestos tend to have a political slant, and in theatrical terms, refer to the aims and methods an organization intends to have. Manifesto consists of a number of storylines spread across 70 odd years, from 1956 to the future in 2024. Each storyline deals with artists struggling to have their voices heard, bogged down by various forces outside of their command, and reflects the plights faced by Singapore’s founding fathers in the arts.
By the end of the play, it’s quite clear what the message is. Manifesto manages to capture the trials and tribulations artists have endured to make theatre what it is today, and in a sense, is a love letter to them, recognizing them for their efforts. At the same time, it acts as a call to arms encouraging the young adults of today to take up the arts, not as a weapon, but as a means to convey and express alternative voices, and not to fear being silenced and erased. Basically, Manifesto hopes for a future in which there is greater freedom of speech and artistic practices, and harnesses its hopes in the youth of today.
Manifesto’s message takes on a somewhat acerbic tone of the government’s practices, though it never says it out loud, self-censoring whenever a sensitive issue is at hand (literally having the actors skip over the offensive word or phrase). The timely M18 rating it received just the day before reflects the extent to which it’s decided to call out the government, and how viewers are expected to have a certain maturity coming in to the theatre.
It is difficult to say if Manifesto will serve as one of those milestone plays in Singapore’s theatrical history, as TNS’ past productions such as Gemuk Girls or Good People have been. One thing’s for certain though: it announces its message loud and clear, and has learnt that in order to beat oppressive policies, you have to tiptoe your way around them and tell things to the people that are capable of making the change happen. If you did manage to get a ticket to Manifesto, come in with an open mind, and ask yourself at the end of the day:
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