From featuring promising young theatremakers at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, to the creative jamming of The Orange Playground, in recent years, The Necessary Stage (TNS) has been increasingly moving towards the developing of new works and setting the foundations for a new generation of theatremakers. This year, TNS has also brought back Playwrights’ Cove, a playwriting training and mentorship programme led by Resident Playwright Haresh Sharma, with the aim of nurturing, processing and platforming contemporary playwriting for Singapore theatre.
Featuring 11 emerging playwrights and theatremakers as spent every week training, drafting and re-drafting plays, Playwrights’ Cove 2022 culminated in a final showcase at the start of November, where a total of 10 scripts were given dramatised readings over five sessions, as performed and directed by professional actors and directors. In many ways, the presentation represents a ‘graduation’ from the programme, with audience members offering feedback to playwrights before they work on a final draft for the programme.
While we couldn’t catch all 10 works, we did manage to come down for two sessions to catch four of the new scripts, each one varied in their content, narrative and tone:
Directed by Serena Ho, Raimi Safari’s Oo-Woo tells the story of a pair of Malay siblings (Rusydina Afiqah and Yazid Jalil) whose family ties begin to fracture as their mother’s (Elnie S Mashari) dementia begins to worsen. Alongside their Chinese sister-in-law (Ellison Tan) wanting to migrate to Australia for work, their mother’s favourite bird also suddenly goes missing (hence the title). While still a work-in-progress, Oo-Woo follows in the footsteps of Raimi’s earlier work Rindu Di Bulan and captures the complexities of family, particularly the bond between parents and children. What makes this an interesting work is how Raimi manages to develop four very different characters over the span of an hour, and seems to in fact, warrant a longer run time and more incidents to allow for further development of these characters, and more peaks and dips in the work.
Directed by A Yagnya, Amanda Chong’s Psychobitch is a monodrama performed by Sindhura Kalidas, and follows hotshot, ‘Type A personality’ journalist Anya Samuel, who is accused of being ‘too emotional’ by her tech bro boyfriend. In response to this, she prepares a detailed slide deck to counter his claims and explain each of the incidents she has cried in public. Psychobitch is without a doubt the most developed and ready for the stage of the four readings we watched, deftly written with a clear sense of Amanda’s personality and a compelling 21st century character with plenty of nuance. Not only is Anya highly self-aware, she is also an Indian Christian woman with a complex backstory, all of which Amanda manages to explore through her script, taking audiences on a journey that goes from humourous to dark in a snap. This is the kind of writing that feels completely in line with modern ‘sadcoms’ (sad comedy) such as Bojack Horseman, and is refreshingly bold, offering something completely new to the local theatre scene.
Directed by Sean Tobin, To Mars, With Love by Lim Shien Hian imagines a future Singapore sending locals on a Mars mission. One woman (Oon Shu An) has been selected, and shares her story from a video recording in space, where she recalls the path it took to get there, and the family and friends she leaves behind (Chaney Chia, Mitchell Fang, Oon Shu An and Zelda Tatiana Ng). With a little suspension of disbelief, To Mars, With Love has a lot of potential, dealing primarily with Shu An’s character more than anything, and feels like a revamp of Shien Hian’s earlier play The Time Machine, still touching on elements of loneliness and feeling out of place with the world while using a sci-fi frame. It feels like a play that still requires a key turning point, rather than a decision that is dragged out, but if anything, shows an immense improvement in writing ability from Shien Hian.
Finally, we also caught Mitchell Fang’s Homepa. Also directed by Sean Tobin, Homepa follows Oliver (Ryan Ang), a young, queer person who has been on the party bender one too many times, leading to his mother (Karen Tan) confining him to his home to keep watch over him. That’s not to say he can’t party – resulting in the ‘homepa’ (home party), where his diverse group of friends come over for boozing and dancing (Nicholas Bloodworth, Deonn Yang, Tan Rui Shan and Vignesh Singh). Mitchell Fang has a firm grasp on the queer culture and lingo of today, bringing out millennial existential dread with gusto and wry humour. Homepa feels less like a stage play and more like a television/webseries pilot, and like some of the other scripts, feels like an exploration of ideas and writing rather than homing in on a focused plot. That’s not to say it’s a bad script, and in fact, one hopes to see a future for this show in a different medium, or lengthier in duration to allow for greater exploration of its fascinating side characters.
As an initiative, Playwrights’ Cove 2022 feels like a step up from its previous edition, and has gathered a group of young playwrights that show great potential if they continue to train and develop their writing. If anything, the future is bright for our local playwriting scene in terms of proliferation of scripts, and one wishes to see more opportunities for such works to be born and developed and guided for more quality theatre pieces to emerge in the years to come.
Playwrights’ Cove 2022 ran from 2nd to 6th November 2022, with a different pair of plays being performed each day, at Practice Space. More information available here