The Finger Players 2018: An Interview with Framed, By Adolf Director/Playwright Chong Tze Chien and Cast Member Joshua Lim
This June, The Finger Players return with a brand new season of theatrical productions to be staged at the Victoria Theatre. Each playing for a single weekend over two weeks, witness the return of their new shows with Citizen Dog and Framed, by Adolf, helmed by Finger Players resident director Oliver Chong and company director Chong Tze Chien respectively.
In the second of a two part series, we spoke to Framed, by Adolf director and playwright Chong Tze Chien, as well as cast member Joshua Lim. Framed, by Adolf marks the spiritual sequel to Chong’s previous work Starring Hitler as Jekyll and Hyde, in a planned trilogy surrounding the infamous German dictator and his relation to art. Says Tze Chien: “I’ve always been interested in history and the holocaust. In my playwriting classes, I always bring up the idea of Hitler, and how one could possibly write a character like that without passing judgment on his actions. I first started writing these plays back in 2013 for Lasalle graduates, as I saw a lot of uncanny similarities between Germany and Singapore, prompting me to write about these parallels as a parable.”
He continues: “Even when I was writing Starring Hitler, I already knew there would be a second one. It started when I wanted to write a scene about characters looking at a painting by Hitler, and realised it was a fantastic piece of art, and what are the repercussions of that? Although Framed is not a narrative sequel, it acts as a companion piece with a lot of resonant themes that are carried over from the first one.”
In Framed, by Adolf, Chong explores Hitler’s actual skills as a painter, imagining a narrative where a peddler attempts to sell a ‘great and undiscovered artwork’ supposedly painted by Adolf Hitler himself. In the pitch, the peddler weaves a story (or history?) about her own Jewish grandfather, mistakenly tried as a Nazi war criminal for owning the painting. Says Tze Chien: “It’s a play within a play, but as you enter this world, you become increasingly involved in it. Even though you can tell that it’s a story told by the peddler, the play unfolds like a psychological thriller and we start to question and look closely at the many layers of reality presented onstage.”
On the title, Tze Chien explains: “The word Framed has a double meaning – it’s simultaneously literally about the framed Hitler painting and the story behind it, and there’s also the implication that it’s about framing or maligning someone. Abdown, the character Joshua plays, is very much about that – a Jew who is tried as a Nazi criminal. Was he framed, or is there truth to his crime?”
In choosing to cast Joshua in the play, Tze Chien explains how Joshua was an apprentice with The Finger Players from 2012 – 2014, and Tze Chien wanted to work with him, alongside other apprentices from that first batch. Says Tze Chien: “Joshua is a goody two shoes in real life, just like Abdown in the play. But Abdown also has a much darker side, and it’ll be interesting to push Joshua in this direction, beyond his usual demeanour.”
Says Joshua on how he’s preparing for the role: “I’m treating this the same as I treat any other role. Directors can be different, but it ultimately boils down to being responsible enough to get your lines down and take notes properly in order to push my character out to the audience. The spotlight falls onto my character for quite a long time, and the story comes alive through what he goes through, who he meets and his interactions and experiences with the other characters. It really hinges on a collective effort from all of us.”
Other cast members will include Serene Chen as the peddler, Timothy Nga, Darius Tan and Zee Wong, as well as puppeteers Ang Hui Bin and Myra Loke. On the staging itself, Tze Chien elaborates: “Think of it as an IMAX experience. It’s going to be quite cinematic as we meld moving images, portraits and art, with new ways of presenting shadow puppetry. Kind of like if you imagine someone running and you can see the moving images behind him. Although it’s ‘minimalist’, where it’s almost like we’re watching actors in a film studio getting into their roles, we realise that the props list is the biggest we’ve ever had. We’re trying to be authentic to the time period, and selected specific items to mark out the era, and it’s going to feel like you’re watching a film onstage.”
He elaborates further: “They’re actors playing actors playing roles. You can see the ‘changing rooms’, as they’re all getting ready to perform. They’ll then transform before your very eyes into characters, another layer to the meaning of the word ‘framed’. This also adds to the concept of truth, and at some point, you’ll catch yourself wondering if you can take anything at face value.”
On what we can expect to feel about the show, Tze Chien says: “We first read this back in 2016 when it was a first draft. From the feedback we’ve gotten so far, people say they get sucked into the drama so quickly, and it’s going to be a fast-paced show, despite it being heavily text based and about history. It’s going to be our version of the cinema blockbuster.”
Joshua adds: “It’s the equivalent of a thrilling page turner, and you’ll always be wondering what’s going to happen next before it suddenly explodes in your face at some point. It’s so engaging, and for us as the actors, there’ll be plenty of quick changes on stage. Even though I’ve done it before in Turn by Turn We Turn, this is going to be a step up from that.”
On the company’s choice to programme a back to back season with two new shows one week after another, Tze Chien concludes: “We’ve been doing this since 2014, and in a way, it’s almost like a mini theatre festival, giving a kind of continuity from one play to another as we cover similar themes or ideas. Each of us within the company brings something different to the table, and the final works are culminations of all our shared ideas.” The Finger Players then promises to leave audiences with bated breath each step of the way, as they’re taken on this winding journey through the spaces between truth and lies, and history itself as the explore exactly what it means to be Framed, by Adolf.
Framed, by Adolf plays from 15th – 17th June at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC