To be staged over two nights for OzAsia, the epic theatre production Hotel tells a history of Singapore not taught in schools or promoted by those in charge of the island state.
The Singapore Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 2015. It marked 50 years since the island state gained independence. Singapore is an economic powerhouse but the press is closely supervised by the government that impose laws that limit personal freedom. The year of the Golden Jubilee also marked the staging of Singapore’s Festival of the Arts, which had a theme of Post Empire. This provided the perfect opportunity for Singapore’s acclaimed Wild Rice Theatre to present their show Hotel.
“It was pretty much inspired by the theme of that festival that year, which was Post Empire,” co-director Glen Goei says. “That year was the Golden Jubilee. We wanted to address this idea: are we really that young? Isn’t there a history that precedes 1965, which would include colonial history and Malaysian history?”
To do this, the group decided to explore a century of Singaporean history and set it all in the same room of a luxury hotel — based on Raffle’s Hotel — with 11 scenes in the aforementioned room over decade-long intervals.
“We want the audiences to experience something different, an epic theatrical experience that is a retelling of Singapore’s history which they had never seen before,” Goei continues. “A lot of them [Singaporeans] were not familiar with the history of Singapore before 1965, so it was very eye opening.”
“We have a much more complex, layered and rich history than a lot of Singaporeans think,” co-writer Alfian Sa’at says. “The official history is very thin. It is a history that starts from trauma, which is our separation from Malaysia, and that we were a vulnerable small island. Then there was this idea of a Messiah-like People’s Action Party that took stewardship of the country and steered us to become an Asian economic miracle. That’s the kind of very utilitarian history that schoolchildren are taught.
“Sometimes we look at Singapore being independent but I don’t believe there’s been a genuine independence movement from the British, meaning that the people who are in power now are the Anglophile elite, who have inherited the keys to government from the British. There’s this sense that we are still living still like colonial subjects in terms of restrictions in our freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, you know? The government trusts us as much as the British government trusted the natives,” Sa’at laughs.
Goei says some in Singapore advocate for change.
“We advocate for a more compassionate society that is not so dogmatic, legalistic, there is a constant movement amongst your liberals and activists and theatre practitioners and artists for change to happen.”
Sexuality and gender are themes of Hotel, but the main issue is race.
“We have a problem with it in Singapore, even though we don’t like to talk about it,” Goei says. “We don’t like to talk about race. Over the past decade we’re told not to talk about race, we don’t have problems with race but of course we have problems with race.”
“We’ve always had a designation of four official races, Chinese, Malay, Indian and then the final race is ‘others’ as a catch all,” Sa’at says. “The idea of others as leftovers is very problematic; we are looking at these things. These are perennial obsessions for Singapore.”
Part 1: Thursday, September 28 (7.30pm) and Saturday, September 30 (2pm)
Part 2: Friday, September 29 (7.30pm) and Saturday, September 30 (7.30pm)