When democracy meets green cause

Trees, A Crowd... by playwright- director Irfan Kasban (above) explores what happens when a road has to be built on the site of a 150-year-old tree.
Trees, A Crowd... by playwright- director Irfan Kasban (above) explores what happens when a road has to be built on the site of a 150-year-old tree.PHOTO: WILFRED LIM

For his new play, Trees, A Crowd..., playwright-director Irfan Kasban had to read up on trees.

"I thought to myself, I'm going to challenge myself to write about trees. This is probably the most research I've ever done on trees. If you pointed to a tree now, I'd probably know what it is," says the 28-year-old.

His play explores what happens when a road has to be built on the site of a 150-year-old tree. The alternative is to take another route, where a 50-year-old tree, planted by the former prime minister of the country in which the play is set, stands.

The cast of four - actors Jo Tan, Shafiqhah Efandi, Xin Xuan and Faizal Abdullah - will play multiple characters in the theatre piece, which is staged like a forum, in which audience members can also take part.

Irfan says: "Trees are secondary in Singapore, just to beautify the streets, much like actors who seem to be dispensable in theatre. If a road needs to be built, the tree goes.

"The play is about the idea of democracy and environmentalism," adds the bachelor.

This is his first play after a year spent directing and performing. "It was harder to get back into it," he says. "You direct other people's works and you get overly critical of your own."

It also marks his first decade in theatre. On top of writing, directing and performing, he has also done stage management and lighting design.

He has written plays such as Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa (Memories For The Victims Of Amnesia), a triple-bill of plays presented at the 2012 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival; Tahan (2013), about a national serviceman in the police force; and Genap 40 (2007), about a woman who meets an angel. Genap 40 has been adapted into a short film.

He recalls: "There weren't as many opportunities when I started out, so I had to be patient. I would work as a crew member and listen to other people's works. I knew I wanted to write, but I was told, you need to see what other people are doing."

As someone who has mentored younger theatre practitioners, he disagrees with the view that millennial theatre-makers are self- involved in their craft.

He says: "They don't want to talk about themselves, usually. But in this age, it's hard not to talk about yourself. Last time, it was all about the work, but now, you have to sell yourself. It's a fine line."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'When democracy meets green cause'. Print Edition | Subscribe