Arts Review Singapore Singapore Arts, Theatre. Theatre

Review: SUB II – The Art of Exploitation by Underground Theatre

A chance to hear from the misunderstood ranks of society and learn a little more about subcultures. 

We’re going to start this review with a disclaimer: we have just about zero experience interacting with any of the subcultures mentioned in SUB II. A punk, metalhead or skinhead is about the furthest thing from our usual social circles, and it’s completely refreshing to see these subcultures take the stand at the Substation (naturally) complete with the support of NAC.

Written and directed by Dew M. Chaiyanara, SUB II: The Art of Exploitation is a play featuring a cast consisting of real life punks, metalheads and skinheads as they show the world what being a part of these subcultures mean, and the daily challenges they face from mainstream society. SUB II follows the story of Ricky (Lian Sutton), a struggling musician with no direction in life. When he comes across Kat (Dew herself), he believes he’s stumbled upon the answer to his problems. Little does he know that the more he attempts to assimilate and become ‘edgy’, the further away from these subcultures he drifts.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 2.37.00 PM
Writer/Director/Cast Dew M. Chaiyanara

In a world that’s rife with multiculturalism, SUB II makes a valiant effort at joining the conversation on cultural appropriation as it comments on how organisations such as fast fashion brands have stolen and cheapened their identities, while launching diatribes against mainstream musicians who sell out and are popularised by record labels. At the same time, through voiceovers from each of these characters, we learn about the deeply personal reasons people join subcultures in the first place, born out of a place of real isolation in the world, finding a tribal family in these similarly disenfranchised individuals and solace in their shared pain. These voiceovers felt sincere and from the heart, making these characters more than just mouthpieces and fleshing them out into real people, making their concerns about being exploited and their fear that the scene’s increasing number of ‘posers’ and ‘fakes’ feel urgent and relevant.


At the same time, there are many issues SUB II raises but never quite addresses properly – in creating these subcultures, who is it that ultimately gets to decide who is truly worthy of joining them or not? Dew’s character of Kat seems to be on the right track – in allowing an outsider a glimpse into their world, it is outreach and education that might be key to keeping the subculture alive – not so much promoting the subculture so much as helping the mainstream understand that they might just be the most benign and real people around as they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and to learn to live and let live.


Ultimately, although by the end of the play, one was still left not entirely certain what truly makes up these subcultures or what they stood for, SUB II was clear in its final message – in quite literally showing that they have been ‘raped’ by the mainstream, it seems the least we can do is not to shoot a tattooed individual dirty looks the next time we walk past them, and from time to time, make an attempt to understand (but not necessarily join) and accept these misunderstood members of society.

Photo Credit: Dew M. Chaiyanara


Performance attended 2/3/18

SUB II: THE ART OF EXPLOITATION plays at the Substation from 3rd – 4th March. For bookings, email:

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