Dream staging comes to life

Nine Years Theatre director Nelson Chia's version of Red Sky includes seasoned dramatists in their 50s and 60s

After a long wait in the wings, director Nelson Chia debuts a cherished dream on stage.

This week, his troupe Nine Years Theatre takes on Stan Lai's acclaimed 1994 play, Red Sky.

Nearly a decade ago, the Taiwanese dramatist turned down the Singapore director's request to present the production about eight residents of an old folks' home.

Chia was encouraged to follow the example of Lai, who developed the Mandarin-language play after watching the Dutch work Twilight.

Lai initially wanted to restage Twilight, but was convinced by its director to present his own take on the universal truths of ageing and mortality.


Red Sky’s 1. Johnny Ng, 2. Yang Shi Bin, 3. Lim Poey Huang, 4. Elena Chia Choo Sian, 5. Liow Shi Suen, 6. Goh Guat Kian, 7. Tay Kong Hui and 8. Henry Lau. PHOTO: NINE YEARS THEATRE

So Chia created First Light, a 2008 work for Toy Factory Productions, centred on characters trapped in the afterlife. He continued to dream of working on Red Sky.

The 44-year-old says: "I love it because of its realism, because of the issues it presents. It's structured like poetry being read out to you."

  • BOOK IT /RED SKY

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT, 20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: Thursday to Sunday, 8pm (Thursday and Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday), 3pm (Sunday)

    ADMISSION: $38, $48 and $58 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: In Mandarin with English surtitles; and Advisory 16 (some mature content and coarse language)

Red Sky runs from Thursday to Sunday at KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT.

Chia thinks he got permission this time because his cast includes veteran dramatists such as Johnny Ng and Goh Guat Kian.

Lai directed them in a 1998 production of Kuo Pao Kun's The Spirits Play. (Kuo, too, was moved by Red Sky to write a drama about the elderly, Sunset Rise, in 1999.)

While Lai first staged Red Sky with younger actors, Chia wanted to bring in seasoned dramatists in their 50s and 60s.

The cast for the Nine Years Theatre staging ranges from 60somethings Yang Shi Bin and Ng to 20somethings such as Ellison Yuyang Tan and Timothy Wan. Chia says: "I wanted this range of ages that suggested a life's timeline."

Also, directing the veterans is a dream on a par with his wish to work on Red Sky.

Sixteen years ago, when he was with Kuo's troupe The Theatre Practice, he watched with bated breath from the wings as the actors prepared their characters, then stepped on stage and created a different world.

"Looking at them, I learnt a lot of things you can learn only by waiting in the wings," he says.

Also watching the veterans from backstage was cast member Tay Kong Hui. The 51-year-old considers himself somewhere "between the veterans and the younger actors" in age and experience.

The different generations have to work to build "a common language" backstage, he says, because they approach acting in different ways.

Younger actors might think first of how a character moves and then consider why he has a limp, for example.

"Veterans will spend a long time discussing with the director where this person came from, what might have happened to this person before," Tay says.

The historical context of Red Sky has been a challenge for the Singapore team.

The title is a reference to the last light of the day, but viewers can be excused for seeing a reference to Communist China. The play's characters went to Taiwan with the Kuomintang in 1949 and their inability to return to mainland China for decades inspires some bitterness.

Lai's staging of Red Sky in Beijing in 1999 made headlines because it played with a mainland cast and no changes to the script.

For the Singapore staging, Chia has decided to remove specific references to the Kuomintang and emphasise personal histories.

"In our version, we want to stop time. We stop, create a space for us all to look at our lives' journeys for two hours and then move on," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Dream staging comes to life'. Print Edition | Subscribe