Nine iconic Chinese-language productions are featured in Toy Factory Productions' Upstage: Contemplating 50 Years Of Singapore Mandarin Theatre
1 The Tune Of Life (Sheng Huo De Xuan Lu; 1966) by Shi Ke Yang, presented by the Kong Heh Musical Association
This play, staged a year after Singapore's independence, looks at the life of a young woman who goes "astray", caught up in the tug of materialism, forsaking her childhood lover. She has to be "rescued" and reminded of what is morally correct, and her father later forces her to marry someone else.
2 The Return (Gui Lai; 1967) by Wang Li, presented by the People's Action Party, Telok Ayer sub-division
The PAP produced a burst of theatrical works in the mid- to late-1960s, before concluding these activities in 1972. Wang Li was the go-to director for many of these productions.
The Return is about a young leftist worker who gets arrested, while his brother and sister attempt to change his mind and get him to contribute to society and his country.
3 Growing Up (Cheng Zhang; 1972) by Kuo Pao Kun, presented by the Southern Arts Association
Kuo's early work and third full- length play looks at the journey of three very different young women who become labour activists. One has to deal with a boyfriend who betrays her, another comes from an estranged family and yet another feels a calling to serve the disenfranchised. The play depicts their inner conflicts as they take up factory jobs to serve others and take a stand against injustice.
4 The Second Flee (Di Er Ci Ben; 1973) by Lin Chen, presented by the Arts Theatre of Singapore
This work by Cultural Medallion recipient Lin Chen traces the life of a man who accidentally murders someone and has to go on the run not once, but twice. He must face down an evil supervisor and blackmail in order to get a fresh start in life. The plays prompts the audience to always strive to do good, even if the consequences are not rewarding.
5 The Little White Sailing Boat (Xiao Bai Chuan; 1982) by Kuo Pao Kun, a collaboration between 14 Chinese theatre groups
This domestic saga spanning 40 years depicts a family torn between the ideals of socialism and the pragmatism of business, and is about one man's search for redemption. It was staged at the then Singapore Festival of Arts and marked a milestone in the comingtogether of the Chinese theatre scene, with its cast and creative team a who's who of artists of those times, such as the late theatre pioneer Low Ing Sing and Cultural Medallion recipient Lin Chen.
6 Oolah World (Wu La Shi Jie; 1984) by Han Lao Da, a collaboration among 17 Chinese theatre groups
Another Singapore Festival of Arts commission, this musical drama with a cast of about 50 had many fantasy elements and was inspired by a story from the classic compendium of ghosts and superstitions, Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio (Liaozhai Zhiyi). The music was written by Singapore composer Phoon Yew Tien.
7 Lao Jiu (1990) by Kuo, presented by The Theatre Practice
This much-loved drama about the ninth-born and only son of a large, working-class family details the struggle between tradition and passion. The titular young boy has to deal with his conflicting passions for puppetry and his studies, and the play captures the social pressures facing younger Singaporeans who long to throw off the paper chase and pursue their dreams.
8 Descendants Of The Eunuch Admiral (1995) by Kuo, presented by The Theatre Practice
Kuo wrote Descendants first in English, then in Mandarin. Through a series of episodic monologues, the play examines the origins of the historical figure of the Chinese admiral Zheng He, with scenes detailing the great wonders he sees as well as the painful act of losing his manhood. But the lyrical piece is also a meditation on rootlessness, displacement and being a cultural orphan.
9 The VaginaLOGUE (2000) by Li Xie, presented by Drama Box
This reinterpretation of Eve Ensler's seminal play The Vagina Monologues was staged to critical acclaim. Li interviewed more than 20 women, asking them about sex, sexuality and, of course, their vaginas, and knit together a moving portrait of womanhood, dealing with everything from the painful act of genital mutilation to women's sexual and emotional needs.