For Art's Sake

Centre 42’s Vault opens to history and melodrama in 1964

Centre 42’s Vault opens to history and melodrama in 1964
Centre 42 opens its Vault series with the performance-lecture Nineteen Sixty-Four featuring the plays of Goh Poh Seng and Lim Chor Pee, with performers Serene Chen, Nora Samosir, Casey Chen and Robin Loon.
Published: 8:00 AM, September 23, 2014

SINGAPORE — Centre 42’s been taking baby steps in the right direction and last night, it opened one of its programmes in the best way possible.

The Vault’s a series that looks at Singapore’s English language theatre history and for its first instalment, the works of pioneers Goh Poh Seng and Lim Chor Pee were reintroduced to a new audience through a performance-lecture titled Nineteen Sixty-Four.

Not your run-of-the-mill reading, Goh’s When Smiles Are Done and Lim’s A White Rose At Midnight are put in dialogue with one another and with the social and historical context in which these were written, all via newspaper articles, academic essays, a video montage and, of course, excerpts from the pieces themselves, as performed by actresses Serene Chen and Nora Samosir, along with Centre 42’s Robin Loon and Casey Lim.

1964 was a pretty eventful year, as Loon contextualises early on. The Beatles were all the rage, the United States’ Civil Rights Act was signed, the Vietnam War was in full swing — and Singapore had its race riots.

And in this milieu of racial tension, cabaret girls and pop culture in Singapore, the characters in the plays find footing: The relationship between a Chinese woman and an Indian man in Goh’s Smiles and a Chinese-educated woman and English-educated man in Lim’s White Rose, for instance. It’s been said that the early attempts by these pioneers were somewhat stilted, but Chen and Samosir were fun to watch (the slacker character of Chong Kit in Goh’s play was quite memorable) and just the effort of framing the excerpts gave the whole experience depth, whether it was the actors’ personal responses to the play (Chen comparing Chong Kit to indie musician Kelvin Tan, Samosir recalling her neighbours who worked in a cabaret) or the snippets of archival and academic material presented by Loon and Lim.

And you know what, the online Vault itself is a very impressive resource. Check it out here:

The next Vault event will be held end of October, which incidentally is when the Singapore Writers Fest kicks off. Centre 42, after all, is one of the fest venues so expect more stuff happening in this little blue mansion.

And in case you didn’t know, its Citizens’ Reviews programme is already up and running. You can check out some of the reviews here: