[Preview] W!LD Rice Kicks off imagiNATION Season With Public Enemy

The recent loss of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew will mark this a particularly poignant and emotional year for those of us in Singapore. Our thoughts and reflections will turn to the past and to the journey that Singapore as a nation underwent to be where it is today.

The productions that had been planned to celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary will now take on a new raw significance, as we look to art in the little red dot, to tie us back to ideas of nation hood, solidarity and what it means to be part of Singapore.

From April 9th – 25th, W!LD Rice will open a year-long imagiNATION season that has been planned to celebrate Singapore’s 50th and W!LD Rice’s 15th anniversary. Each of the five new productions will take on a theme built around the stars of the Singapore flag.The first production, Henrik Ibsen’s powerful classic Public Enemy, will take place in the Victoria Theatre.

The Muse caught up with award-winning director Glen Goei to find out why Public Enemy was chosen to lead the year-long imagiNATION season.

This is the first installment of W!ld RICE’s year long imagiNATION season celebrating Wild Rice’s 15th anniversary and SG50, can you tell us how this project was realised and what special significance it holds for you as W!ld RICE’s Associate Director?

In this 50th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore, we looked at our National Pledge and it made us consider the meaning of the five stars: Democracy, Peace, Progress, Equality and Justice. We felt it was important for us to re-examine the meaning of these concepts, 50 years on, in the context of our crowded, fast paced society in an increasingly complex global world.

And amidst the hooplah of the SG50 celebrations, we wanted to offer a different perspective of the celebrations. Instead of just patting ourselves on the back and navel gazing, we felt it was important that we present a reflective and thoughtful look at our past and present and to consider what we want in the next fifty years.

Why did you select Public Enemy as the first installment of the imagiNATION season?

Our first star, Democracy, is particularly current and pertinent as we come to the run up to our next General Elections as it provokes pressing questions about our responsibilities as voters in a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-sexual community.

On another level, we have often opened our season with a CLASSIC. In the past, I directed Noel Cowards’s BLITHE SPIRIT, Oscar Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, and last year, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA. And I’ve been hankering to do Ibsen!

Public Enemy challenges the easy associations with democracy. What reaction or discussion do you hope to provoke with this production?

We are a democracy, and as responsible citizens we must consider what our responsibilities are as voters who live in a country which we share with our fellow countrymen of other races, religions, genders and sexual preferences. I hope this production will be thought-provoking, and challenge our preconceived notions of what democracy truly is and make us question what it means to live in a civilised society.

What’s the most important question raised in this production of Public Enemy?

The most important question raised in my opinion (there are many!) is: Just because the majority has power, does that make them always RIGHT? The true and accurate concept of DEMOCRACY is not about the rights of the majority but rather the protection of the rights of the MINORITY. Minorities all over the world: women, the disabled, religious, race, LGBT etc are still being oppressed and marginalised. And standing up for the TRUTH should be the foundation and bedrock of every society and nation.

What unique Singaporean spin can we expect to see in this production?

I’ve relocated the play to current day Singapore, so other than the references to some local locations, I hope audiences will be able to pinpoint and identify with the characters in  the play which are not unlike characters that we find in Singapore today, even though the play was written 130 years ago.

Public Enemy is packed with a star studded cast including Ivan Heng playing Dr. Thomas Chee and Lim Kay Siu playing the corrupt Mayor. Was it easy for you to cast this production? What’s special about this cast?

It was not easy casting this production as the themes and messages in the play are very complex and so are the characters. In the end I had to go to Kuala Lumpur to cast two characters: Ghafir Akbar who plays the editor Zainal Ibrahim, and Kee Thuan Chye who plays the tycoon. As for Ivan Heng and Lim Kay Siu, they are both fine actors in their prime and could have played either character. And both are my dearest friends. So it was a very hard call and I agonised about it for months. In the end, I went with my gut feel.

This production has pulled in some of the best theatre artists out there – what can we expect from costume and set design?

Wong Chee Wai who designed my set for THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA and COOK A POT OF CURRY, James Tan for lighting design, Darren Ng for sound design and Lai Chan for costume design. Could I ask for more?

If you could summarise the show in three words for our readers, what would they be?

Thought-provoking, stimulating and entertaining!

Any final comments?

Buy a ticket. NOW!