26 years since its premiere in 1993, The Necessary Stage (TNS) is once more bringing back one of their most well known plays to the stage in 2019 – Off Centre.
Written by TNS Resident Playwright Haresh Sharma and directed by TNS artistic director Alvin Tan, Off Centre was a bold new step forward for Singapore theatre as it cast an honest and unflinching spotlight on the stigma of mental illness in Singapore. With mental health becoming a more pertinent issue that ever, Off Centre remains strikingly relevant even today, continuing to champion and raise the need for continued conversation about mental health and empathy and support for those who suffer from it.
Back in 2007, Off Centre also became the first Singaporean play to be studied as a GCE ‘O’ and ‘N’ level literature text, and since 2018, has made a return to the syllabus. Says Haresh Sharma: “After 25 years, it’s great that the play has a new lease on life. Students will be able to engage and dialogue with the issues, which are still pertinent today. We need more of our literature to be taught in schools. The myriad of Singapore writing captures our voices, our stories, our hopes, and dreams. It should be celebrated.”
The plot of Off Centre follows the unlikely friendship between Saloma and Vinod, and traces their journeys as they deal with their personal conflicts as well as social prejudices against mental health conditions while trying to reintegrate into society. Perhaps most exciting about the coming production is the return of Sakinah Dollah and Abdulattif Abdullah (Lattif), the original actors who played Saloma and Vinod respectively in the 1993 staging, and will be reprising their roles. Says Sakinah: “I am feeling nervous and excited at the same time. There will be a lot of soul-searching for me as the process in this play was and will always be mentally strenuous.’
Latiff adds: “I did not realise how much a part of me the play really is… The play obviously means a lot to the two of us. [I] met my wife and unbelievably and incredibly, I got to teach it as an ‘O’ Level text!”
Off Centre (2019) will also star a stellar ensemble of some of the strongest actors working in theatre today, along with some fresh new faces to TNS, namely Brendon Fernandez, Nicholas Bloodworth, Ellison Tan, Farez Najid, Sindhura Kalidas and Joshua Lim, as well as theatre veterans Aidli Mosbit and Najib Soiman, who were also part of TNS’ previous stagings of Off Centre.
Says director Alvin Tan: “As we are having the leads, Vinod and Saloma, and Mak being played by the original cast members who now have more life experiences from when they took on the roles in their 20s, I believe there will be more to look out for in this re-staging. I’m looking forward to more nuances and layers to the playing of these well-crafted characters who have drawn our compassion and mesmerised us each time they appear on stage since 1993.”
Off Centre plays at the Victoria Theatre from 7th to 17th February 2019. Tickets available from SISTIC