Arts Fest director questions R18 rating for play on paedophila by children

The cast of Five Easy Pieces, a play about the trial of a paedophile that has received an R18 rating by the MDA.
The cast of Five Easy Pieces, a play about the trial of a paedophile that has received an R18 rating by the MDA.PHOTO: PHILE DEPREZ

SINGAPORE - The festival director of the ongoing Singapore International Festival of Arts has taken issue with a play about a convicted paedophile, performed by children, being given an R18 rating by the Media Development Authority (MDA).

Five Easy Pieces, based on the life and crimes of notorious Belgian criminal Marc Dutroux, is performed by seven children and teens aged eight to 13. It runs until Saturday (Aug 20) at the Victoria Theatre.

A statement on the festival's Facebook page by festival director Ong Keng Sen said this would be the first time since the work opened in Brussels in May that the young actors would perform to an audience that did not include their peers.

It has shown in Berlin in Germany, Oslo in Norway and Utrecht and Den Bosch in the Netherlands, where children aged 12 and older were allowed to watch the show.

Ong said on Facebook: "This decision of MDA makes it hard as the tale is a cautionary story which affects children most. Just like sex education, it is important for the children to understand the full context of what they can be exposed to.

"The strongest reason to do this work has been lobotomised."

The director of Five Easy Pieces, Swiss dramatist and film-maker Milo Rau, shared Ong's post on his Facebook page. He wrote in German: "Tomorrow is the premiere in Asia of Five Easy Pieces in Singapore. The authorities have just put an R18 (mature theme and disturbing content) restriction for the audience - only (those) above 18 can see the show. Here is the wise answer of the festival director Ong Keng Sen."

Rau is in Europe working on a new project and could not be reached for comment by press time.

The MDA rating was received on Monday. Ong told The Straits Times that the full script and full video of the performance were submitted to MDA more than two months before the show date as required, but "we did not receive any queries from MDA until the R18 notice came".

Tickets for Thursday (Aug 18) and Friday (Aug 19) were almost sold out at press time. There were no school bookings and no requests have been received for refunds. Ticketholders below the age of 18 may contact the Sistic booking hotline (6348-5555) or e-mail feedback@sistic.com.sg for a refund.

In response to queries, MDA said the show was given a R18 rating as the play explores the mature topic of paedophilia.

"In determining the rating, MDA consulted the Arts Consultative Panel and took into consideration the Arts Entertainment Classification Code, which allows for mature themes with explicit content to be explored under the R18 rating."

The MDA-appointed Arts Consultative Panel is a 40-member panel of homemakers, artists, educators and working professionals. The panel helps MDA evaluate arts entertainment and can make recommendations on ratings.

Five Easy Pieces premiered in May at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels and touches on a sore spot in Belgian history. Dutroux's arrest in 1996 for a series of child sex crimes shook the nation.

The show was developed by Rau and his IIPM - International Institute Of Political Murder, with Ghent-based arts centre Campo. The Singapore International Festival of Arts is a co-producer.

In the play, the young performers enact five sketches, playing roles that include a police officer, one of the victims, the parents of a victim and the father of Dutroux.

The programme booklet for the play, issued by the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, addresses the issue of whether the theme is "too gruesome, too incredible, too shocking for children".

Rau said in the booklet that the team included two advisers and a child psychologist and parents were closely involved in rehearsals.