Review: International Friendship Day by The Necessary Stage [27/7/16]

The Necessary Stage has always been a mainstay of Singapore’s theatre scene, covering all kinds of topics from political pieces to collaborations with overseas theatre companies, making for some very interesting pieces.

But what they also do regularly is community type theatre, often written with a very specific message in mind that addresses pertinent issues in society, such as When The Bough Breaks and post-natal depression. This time around, TNS presents International Friendship Day, aimed primarily at secondary school students. Originally commissioned for the Singapore Kindness Movement in 2015, International Friendship Day takes the form of an interactive play, utilising theatre forum create a unique discussion on the topic of integration between local and foreign students.

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The production begins with a pre-show discussion, splitting the various students in attendance into groups. The facilitators asked the students to introduce themselves, and asked them if the school had various policies that promoted segregation or highlighting differences in race or background, such as Racial Harmony Day or Bring Your Culture’s Food to School Day, and for the students to voice their thoughts on it. The facilitators then split the students into two groups, according to whether they were local or foreign students, simulating a mandatory segregation. Quite interestingly, students automatically made the move to shift to the other group if their friends happened to be there, making us quite relived that our education system is doing good and erasing these imaginary boundaries we create in adulthood. The students then sat down to watch the performance proper.

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Adib Kosnan, Lian Sutton, Karen Tan and Audrey Luo star in this play, acting as various characters, from students to teachers. The local students are friends with the foreign students in school, but feel threatened by the foreign students outside, from academic pressures due to competition, nicely paralleled with a character’s father, who is retrenched and loses his job to a foreigner. The foreign students wonder why there’s a need to have an activity where they showcase their culture, and the local students do not, considering that the exchange is two way, and they too want to know more about our local culture. Each of these scenes play out briefly, cutting off without delivering any moral message, as a vehicle for the student audience to think about the themes and issues raised.

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The performance concluded with a post-show activity, where the students continued to engage in discussion with each other, this time as one collective audience, and to reflect on certain parts of the play, and what they might have done in the various scenes, with some even coming up on stage to re-enact those scenes in their own way.

It was nice that we walked away from the theatre feeling a little more hopeful for society’s future. In a time rife with xenophobia and quickness in adopting an ‘us vs them’ mentality, it stands to reason that the play targets the youth to inculcate good values from the beginning. And the great thing is, it seems to be working. It’s always a wonderful reminder that TNS is so much more than great thespians; they’re also great educators, and actively harness the power of drama for good too.

Photo credits: ArtsWok Collaborative and Yusri Sapari

International Friendship Day is open to the public at the Esplanade Studio Theatre on 28 July 2016, 8pm for one show. Tickets available from here Be sure to also check out the rest of the M1 Peer Pleasure festival and support our young artists’ work!

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