Finger Players revisits its best work Poop! and Kuo Pao Kun's classic The Spirits Play

Poop!, a tale of death, grieving and loss, was first staged in 2009.
Poop!, a tale of death, grieving and loss, was first staged in 2009.PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY

Next month, The Finger Players restages a play many consider the troupe's best: Poop!, a tale of death, grieving and loss, first staged in 2009.

Poop!, which plays from Oct 20 to 22, will be followed by Kuo Pao Kun's well-known work, The Spirits Play, from Oct 27 to 29.

Both will be shown at Victoria Theatre.

The Finger Players' company director Chong Tze Chien directs Poop!, which he wrote, with the original cast from 2009 and 2010. Julius Foo plays a dead man, while Neo Swee Lin, Janice Koh and Jean Ng are the family left behind.

Chong, 40, says The Finger Players has made a conscious effort since 2014 to restage older works to meet demand from audiences.

Poop! was restaged in 2010 for viewers who were unable to buy tickets for the previous year's shows and is one of The Finger Players' most requested works.

More importantly, restagings help a play reach its full potential.

  • BOOK IT / POOP!

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Oct 20, 8pm; Oct 21, 3 and 8pm; Oct 22, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35 to $55 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Mature content; go to www.fingerplayers.com

    THE SPIRITS PLAY

    WHERE: Victoria Theatre

    WHEN: Oct 27, 8pm; Oct 28, 3 and 8pm; Oct 29, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $35 to $55 from Sistic

    INFO: Mature content; performed in Mandarin with English surtitles. Go to www.fingerplayers.com

He says: "We as creators are constantly beating our brains out to churn out new ideas and new plays, which is an unhealthy practice. New works in Singapore often die an immature death as there's a tacit expectation that it should 'work' right from the get-go. Restagings help us grow the work and our craft, refining the play with each staging."

Poop was originally shown at the 220-seat Esplanade Theatre Studio, while Victoria Theatre can accommodate three times the former's capacity.

To make use of the larger theatre's height and depth, the set by designers Ctrk Fre@k has two stages at different levels and more puppeteers to enhance illusions such as making the dead man ghostly. The script has been tweaked, Chong says, to build on the characters' history.

Ghosts also haunt The Spirits Play. The play was inspired by a visit Kuo made to the Japanese cemetery in Yio Chu Kang. Five spirits of the dead, including a woman, a general and a poet, speak of wartime horror.

The Spirits Play was directed here first by noted Taiwanese director Stan Lai in 1998 and two years later by Ong Keng Sen, outgoing festival director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts. It has since been restaged several times, including by Kuo's company The Theatre Practice.

Does the spectre of the Japanese Occupation still loom over Singapore? Yes, for a certain generation, say the cast and director Oliver Chong, 40, who also helmed The Finger Players' 2015 staging of the work.

Actress Tan Wan Sze, 39, who plays the spirit of a suffering woman, says her grandmother lost relatives in the 1940s. Japanese- made goods were taboo in her household until they became ubiquitous and affordable in the 1990s.

Her mother also backed out of watching the 2015 staging of the play at the Drama Centre Black Box. "She didn't want to face the cruelty of it," says Tan, who hopes the larger Victoria Theatre will "add distance" and make the play more watchable.

The cast also includes Johnny Ng, Alvin Chiam, Tay Kong Hui, Doreen Toh, Jasmine Xie Huilin, Myra Loke and Jo Kwek.

Oliver Chong says Kuo's script, which was reworked several times, eventually took out all references to the Japanese. "He (Kuo) kept insisting that we're not talking about the Japanese because if we do, we fall into the pithole of hatred and vengeance. It's seeing war from a different place. We're taking about the human condition of anger, greed, ignorance.

"War will go on because we just can't learn."

His cast agrees. Tan points out that women are often sexually abused or exploited during war and not just by enemy forces. Women within the American military have been raped by comrades or superiors. "It's a human flaw, not just one country's flaw," she says.

Chiam's mother lost her father and brother during the Japanese Occupation.

The 46-year-old plays the spirit of a poet, who feels guilt for writing propaganda during the war, but says family history does not inspire his portrayal.

"The beauty of the script is that you're not looking at one aggressor, but at how easily humanity can be twisted," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Ghosts, death and loss revisited'. Print Edition | Subscribe