Funny play raises haunting questions

GRC players: (from left) Khairudin Samsudin, Dalifah Shahril, Neo Swee Lin, Fir Rahman and Farah Ong.
GRC players: (from left) Khairudin Samsudin, Dalifah Shahril, Neo Swee Lin, Fir Rahman and Farah Ong.PHOTO: TEATER EKAMATRA

REVIEW / THEATRE

GENG REBUT CABINET (GRC)

Teater Ekamatra/Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle College Of The Arts/Wednesday

GRC is a funny play. There are laughs, but these lead to sobering realisation, as the audience sees itself reflected in the funhouse mirror of the world on stage.

Playwright Alfian Sa'at and director Mohd Fared Jainal invert reality as we know it in this production from Teater Ekamatra.

  • BOOK IT / GENG REBUT CABINET

    WHERE: Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle College of the Arts, Block F, Level 1, 1 McNally Street

    WHEN: Until Sunday, 8pm today, 3 and 8pm tomorrow and Sunday

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

    INFO: Rated Advisory 16 (Mature Content)

In a small nation where Malays are in the majority, the ruling Parti Tindakan Pekerja must field a minority Chinese candidate in order to retain its hold on the Chai-Chee Commonwealth GRC.

Enter teacher Catherine Seah (Neo Swee Lin), who looks good in red (the Chinese colour), can speak Mandarin (to endear herself to the minority) and is also willing to be tutored in Jawi calligraphy and rap in Malay for the hilarious and well-staged campaign music video (to prove her inclusiveness).

Yet her concerns about Chinese representation in the armed forces (a token fighter pilot every 10 years) and other ways in which her race is marginalised go unheard, notably in a scene where the political comrades sing karaoke and there is no mike for Catherine.

Performed in Malay and English - and a little Mandarin - with English surtitles as required, GRC is as inclusive as the reality it represents fails to be.

In 2012, Alfian's Cooling Off Day, staged by Wild Rice, captured election fever from the voters' point of view. With GRC, we get to see how a political party works to snag the electoral majority.

Mobile shelving units, tables and chairs are neatly deployed by stage crew in party colours to create the campaign's headquarters, front stage at a rally and even the aforementioned karaoke joint, but far more enthralling is the dialogue on stage as the actors fight for their constituency. Voter sentiment is captured in statistics, gerry- mandering engineers an electoral division that spans the breadth of the island to ensure the correct proportion of supporters of the ruling party.

This is war conducted efficiently, pragmatically and seductively by the Malay candidates - cue stunning performances by Farah Ong, Dalifah Shahril, Khairudin Samsudin and Fir Rahman.

They are so good that Catherine comes off as naive in comparison. It is easy to sympathise with their view: that her ideals are well- intentioned but badly timed and could cost them the majority vote. But when then is the right time for idealism?

The irony is that Catherine deals well with most of her political comrades when it is one-on-one. They have much in common and can understand her point of view, but when it comes to the bigger picture, they close ranks and insist that she is being short-sighted and impatient. Catherine truly wishes to consider herself a citizen of her country first, ahead of her ethnicity, but entrenched custom keeps her on the fringes.

After she deviates from the agreed-upon speech at a rally, the four Malay candidates gather to consider how to discipline her for not being a team player. There is only the tiniest suggestion that the missing team member be included in the discussion.

Is it a team when a player is benched for the very reasons she was chosen in the first place? This is one of many haunting questions GRC raises. If only it also had all the answers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Funny play raises haunting questions'. Print Edition | Subscribe