The Spirits Play: An Interview with Director Oliver Chong and Actor Tay Kong Hui
The second play in their Contemporary/Classics series, the Finger Players will be restaging theatre legend Kuo Pao Kun’s The Spirits Play in the final week of October, in the week immediately following Poop! The Spirits Play is a haunting, anti-war work that follows five spirits in conversation, all killed during World War II as they discuss the enemies that led to their death, both without and within their ranks. Full of anguish and poignant truths, The Spirits Play was last staged by The Finger Players in 2015, and will feature the same cast and crew.
We spoke to director Oliver Chong and cast member Tay Kong Hui as they bring us some insider insights into working on the seminal work prior to its staging in October. Check out the interviews in full below!
You last directed The Spirits Play in 2015, with the same cast. Why do Kuo Pao Kun’s plays, particularly The Spirits Play, continue to resonate with audiences today?
The exploration of the human conditions of greed, anger and ignorance in The Spirits Play is and will always be relevant. The play allows audiences to deeper examine and ruminate upon these conditions magnified under the cruel circumstances of war. The Spirits Play also seems especially imperative now with recent news of imminent wars and nuclear threats all over the media. Kuo Pao Kun’s plays continue to resonate with audiences today because they are often discerning, incisive and reflective in questioning the human conditions under imminent circumstances. Some of the circumstances in his plays are deceptively everyday or even petty but always essential and universal.
Did you watch any previous stagings of The Spirits Play? How much did those stagings inspire your direction, or how much does your direction deviate from those?
Yes, all 6 of them except Keng Sen’s, which I unfortunately missed. Most of the previous stagings have chosen a deconstructed approach to the text. However I would like to adhere to the text as closely as possible in my staging, with a self-imposed agenda of making as little changes to the text as possible. That said, I have made more changes to the text since the previous staging, mainly rearranging some text, deleting and adding a few lines. Direction wise, I believe every director should have his or her own interpretation or take or angle on the text.
If you had a chance to speak to Kuo Pao Kun today, what would you say to him or ask him?
“Thank you for writing such a great play and giving me the chance to direct it.”
Tay Kong Hui
Since you last acted in The Spirits Play in 2015, have there been any changes in your life that would make you play the role of the Soldier character differently or relate better to? Is there any research you did specifically in order to better understand the conditions the characters in The Spirits Play went through?
I have become more cautious and tactful of the publicity and propaganda machine intended to shape our ideology and value. Sometimes in certain cases it could bring us to a wrong direction with a wrong cause.
You’ve done other Kuo Pao Kun plays before, such as The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole. What do you find is the most exciting thing about acting in a work written by Kuo Pao Kun?
Singapore has always been a place that prone to outreach to foreigners academically or artistically, despite the fact that we have many other valid and talented artists. It is noteworthy that we have at least one of our recognised artist being unanimously accepted by the authority and our people. This is something we should be proud of and we should look forward to more Kuo Pao Kun to come.
Why should audiences come and watch The Spirits Play?
Our people should come and watch this play if they want to find out more about themselves as part of a nation and what had happened to our homeland before and to avoid it happening again in the new future. Similarly for those who do not have a Singapore background it is a good way to know what our views towards peace and humanity is.
Want to catch Tay Kong Hui play a grizzled Soldier from WWII in the restaging of The Spirits Play? We’re giving away THREE pairs of tickets to catch the show on 27th October, 8pm!
To win tickets to the show, all you have to do is:
1. Like us on Facebook and Instagram, and follow The Finger Players on Facebook
2. Comment on this post and tell us “What character does Tay Kong Hui play in The Spirits Play?” Hint: Read our interview with Tay Kong Hui to find the answer!
3. In your comment, tag a friend you’d like to catch the show with and remember to share it!
Winners will be contacted via Facebook.
Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography
The Spirits Play will be performed in Mandarin with English surtitles at Victoria Theatre from 27th – 29th October. Tickets available via SISTIC
The Spirits Play
When: 27th – 29th October, 3pm & 8pm
Where: Victoria Theatre