Theatreworks’ twentieth edition of the annual 24-Hour Playwriting Competiton was held at a farm commune out in Lorong Chencharu. So it makes complete sense that one of its winners, first time competition participant Christopher Chee, would make full use of the setting for inspiration for his play The Good Farmer.
The Good Farmer’s entire plot revolves around the competition’s first prompt, where participants were tasked to open their play with the line “All men are created equal but only the best are born in July”. Christopher has taken that to its logical conclusion, and The Good Farmer tells the story of two identical twin brothers born minutes apart, leading their birth months to be separated into June and July. Initially close, the brothers eventually grow apart, and further still after a bout of Primary school streaming, which changes both their lives forever.
Fast forward to present day, and older brother Jacob still holds a grudge against golden boy and PSC scholar younger brother Joseph. But the tides are changing – Joseph becomes the black sheep when he decides to break his bond and start a farm commune, leading to the ire of his father and the glee of his brother. When Joseph goes missing, Jacob finds a unique opportunity to bond again with his father once again.
What initially starts out as a family drama quickly leads to an exploration of issues on a far greater scale, from its religious references to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, to its living room decked out completely in red and white furniture and ornaments, hinting at its inherent national themes. Identity and concepts of nature vs nurture also become key to understanding Jacob’s intense resentment and rivalry, making for interesting tensions not only between siblings, but also family versus nation.
Desmond Soh shows plenty of potential playing the twins’ distraught father, managing to encapsulate a seniority beyond his years that only becomes more firm as the play progresses. There’s a naturalness to the way Christopher has written Desmond’s lines that allows him to bring out the emotions buried for years between father and son (both twins are played by Jeramy Lim).
For the most part a serious play, director Grace Kalaiselvi also manages to bring a light touch towards the end of the performance as she has both Jeramy and Desmond perform an inspired Chinese Opera sequence consisting only of onomatopoeic lines, making for a strong visual metaphor for the state and independent farm battling it out for supremacy.
Christopher Chee is a worthy winner at this year’s competition, and has managed to work well within the time and prompt constraints to produce a work that manages to bring out the political from the personal. Given the right tweaks, The Good Farmer has plenty of potential to become a solid script if further developed. Even in its final moments, just when you think the play has reached an eternal calm, Christopher manages to throw out yet another curveball in its twist ending, and through his writing, gives us hope that the future of new playwriting in Singapore has plenty of candidates willing and able to take up that mantle.
Photo Credit: Theatreworks
Performance attended 8/3/18, Marine Parade Community Centre Theatrette
SingPost Centre, Auditorium, Level 5 (10 Eunos Road 8): 23 – 24 March