Trilogy restaged as a single play

Robert Yeo's three works have a new adaptation by The Second Breakfast Company, which introduces a new ending written by the playwright himself

Dominic Nah (above left) and Adeeb Fazah (above right) say revisiting Robert Yeo’s plays is in line with The Second Breakfast Company’s aim to explore older Singapore works.
Dominic Nah (above left) and Adeeb Fazah (above right) say revisiting Robert Yeo’s plays is in line with The Second Breakfast Company’s aim to explore older Singapore works. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Dominic Nah and Adeeb Fazah say revisiting Robert Yeo’s (above) plays is in line with The Second Breakfast Company’s aim to explore older Singapore works.
Dominic Nah and Adeeb Fazah say revisiting Robert Yeo’s (above) plays is in line with The Second Breakfast Company’s aim to explore older Singapore works.

The first table read for The Singapore Trilogy was a marathon in terms of running time.

Dramaturg Dominic Nah, 29, says with a chuckle: "This was Hamlet. This was bad."

Considering this adaptation of Robert Yeo's landmark trilogy condenses three plays into a single new version, a lengthy running time is no surprise.

But director Adeeb Fazah, 29, recognised the need to trim, so the team went back to the drawing board. The final version clocks in at a more manageable two hours and 10 minutes.

Yeo's trilogy - Are You There, Singapore? (1974), One Year Back Home (1980) and Changi (1997) - tracks the lives of middle-class brother-and-sister duo of Soon Chye and Siew Hua as well as their friend Reginald Fernandez. Soon Chye and Reginald become political opponents when they run for office and the latter is arrested by the Internal Security Department.

The new adaptation, to be staged at the Stamford Arts Centre's Black Box from March 11 to 21 by The Second Breakfast Company, has been in the works for a long time.

The idea of revisiting Yeo's trilogy began in 2018, says Adeeb.

The drama educator says the choice is in line with the group's aim to explore older Singapore works. Yeo's trilogy was an obvious choice because, while well-known, it is seldom staged.

Adeeb says: "We were curious to see how that might play out, approaching the works as a new generation of Singaporeans and artistes."

He and Nah consulted Yeo, 81, over five long sessions, discussing drafts, edits and rewrites.

Nah, who is working on his doctorate in literature education at the National Institute of Education, says one of the easiest things about the project was working with Yeo.

"He was not as intimidating as we anticipated. He asked us what we thought about this new ending. It was very empowering to be given that trust from Robert."

Adeeb adds: "It was mind-blowing to have Robert at the table."

The admiration is mutual, as Yeo declares himself "enormously pleased" that his work is being restaged. "It was great working with two young men more than two generations apart from me. Adeeb and Dominic are very consultative, keen to know what I can contribute, and research-oriented."

Adeeb actually set out with the intention of staging all three plays, but Yeo says: "I told them, it is a mountain to climb, but they were not perturbed."

Adeeb admits wryly that his team realised the amount of work involved and decided on a single adaptation instead. It cuts out entire characters, plugs some inconsistencies across the three works and introduces a new ending written by Yeo after feedback from the youthful theatre team.

Yeo is not fussed by this major restructuring.

"I see the Singapore trilogy as a relatively large, complex tapestry that enables multiple interpretations. That is, you can climb the mountain from several directions."

The show, originally scheduled to be staged last May, was delayed by the pandemic.

But, Adeeb says, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the experience of going to the polls - a general election was held in July - gave him a new appreciation of the works.

"It feels like there is resonance right now, having just voted for the first time in my life."

He adds: "Robert's works are quite prescient. One Year Back Home was written a year before any opposition MP made it into Parliament. The issues his characters, Reginald and Soon Chye, talked about can be found in Facebook discussions today.

"When we first came back after the circuit breaker for a table read, the play felt like it was written this year. It sounded like a play for this time because of the ideas."

  • THE SINGAPORE TRILOGY

  • WHERE Stamford Arts Centre, Black Box, 155 Waterloo Street

    WHEN March 11 to 21, 8pm, with weekend matinees at 3pm

    ADMISSION $38

    INFO thesecondbreakfastcompany.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2021, with the headline 'Trilogy restaged as a single play'. Subscribe