In its relatively short, 50-year history, Singapore’s English-language theatre has had its share of memorable plays. Life! picks the classics and tells you why they matter in this new monthly 15-part series, titled Classic Singapore Plays, that runs till August 2015.The play Mimi Fan (1962) by the late Lim Chor Pee (1936-2006) kicks off the series. Here are five reasons why it is a classic:1. Lim, a lawyer, is widely considered to be Singapore’s first English-language playwright. Prior to the work of the late Lim and his contemporary, doctor and writer Goh Poh Seng, home-grown English drama reared its head very sporadically, written mostly by students and rarely published or performed.
Mimi Fan is set in the swinging 60s and is about Chan Fei-Loong, a Singaporean who returns home after his studies in Britain to find himself caught up in a tangle of relationships against the backdrop of a modernising Singapore. After this, Lim wrote one other play, A White Rose At Midnight (1964), a romance between an English-educated university graduate and a Chinese-educated former nightclub singer.2. Mimi Fan broke away from a tradition of amateur expatriate theatre groups staging only Western classics in the theatre.
In the 1950s, Singapore English drama was primarily British drama – apart from British expatriate groups, the number of drama enthusiasts was limited, mostly because many Singaporeans were not fluent in the language, especially prior to self-government in 1959.3. It was one of the first few forays into exploring the Singaporean identity on stage, as a young nation went through a turbulent era of sociopolitical change in the 1960s.
With the stirrings of a national identity and Singapore’s birth pangs came a more concerted effort to establish a Singaporean voice on the stage. Lim himself wrote in a 1964 article for the Tumasek journal: “A national theatre cannot hope to survive if it keeps staging foreign plays.”4. It put the Experimental Theatre Club on the Singapore theatre map.
Lim co-founded the group, which was established in 1961 and pushed for experimental theatre with a Singapore lexicon over the conventional drawing-room drama. The group staged Mimi Fan to good reviews in 1962. Lim Teong Qwee, now a retired judicial commissioner and father of well-known actor Lim Yu-Beng, played the character of Fei-Loong. The Experimental Theatre Club was active until the 1980s.5. It is a confident character study featuring two young women who chose their own paths in an era where women were still expected to find fulfillment through marriage.
The free-spirited Mimi Fan of the title decides to forsake the man who loves her, and her friend and foil Sheila Rani – intense, fiercely independent and whip smart – goes against the wishes of her family in pursuing an interracial romantic relationship.The published script of Mimi Fan is available at Epigram Books at $13.90 (www.epigrambooks.sg)