A fun take on Waterloo Street's history

Johnny Ng (far left) and Yazid Jalil star in Four Horse Road.
Johnny Ng (left) and Yazid Jalil star in Four Horse Road.PHOTO: THE THEATRE PRACTICE

REVIEW / THEATRE

FOUR HORSE ROAD

The Theatre Practice

54 Waterloo Street / Tuesday

Some of The Theatre Practice's most alluring work comes from its site-specific plays, and this production did not disappoint.

Playing not only with space, but also time, it excavated more than 170 years of history. Its performers, speaking in English, Mandarin, Malay, Japanese and several other languages and dialects, brought to life the palpably multi-faceted character of Waterloo Street, one of Singapore's oldest streets.

But as its title - a direct translation of the road's Mandarin name "si ma lu" - suggests, this production is not trying to depict history.

Rather, the play took the area's historical background as a starting point and injected a brand of high-octane melodrama - and oftentimes farcical humour - to tell its own stories.

  • BOOK IT / FOUR HORSE ROAD

  • WHERE: The Theatre Practice, 54 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Until April 28 (Tuesdays to Sundays), 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $68 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

The result? A series of entertaining episodes so engaging that it inspired me to start Googling the area's history right after the show.

Its playwright, theatre veteran Jonathan Lim, is the creator of Chestnuts, Singapore's longest-running live parody sketch show and his imprint can be found throughout, from the wistful pathos of an unusual friendship between a schoolboy and convict to a madcap spoof of war events by a group of prostitutes.

Lim, who has himself spent many years studying and working around Waterloo Street and the surrounding neighbourhood, certainly knows how to grab and hold on to an audience's attention.

In one standout segment, a teenager, played by actor Yazid Jalil, hijacks a bus while the driver, played by theatre veteran Johnny Ng, was sleeping.

Building on actual incidents of people stealing buses for joyrides in the area, the segment shone, bubbling with conflict as Yazid's well-intentioned earnestness clashed wonderfully with Ng's exasperated disbelief.

Even the audience had an unexpected role in this refreshingly imaginative take on history, injecting colour and complexity to a seemingly offbeat news story.

Another memorable segment featured a Japanese major and anti-Japanese army resistance fighters in a restaurant during World War II, which sparkled with its compelling dialogue and strong dramatic elements.

However, not all segments worked as well. One, based on a real-life ice ball vendor in the neighbourhood, was so bizarrely over-the-top, its campy flamboyance served little purpose apart from providing comic relief.

The production also seemed uneven, with serious and humorous segments succeeding one another with no sense of transition.

Nonetheless, it is clear a lot of effort went into developing interesting, unforgettable characters to bring this location's rich past to life. History has never seemed so fun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'A fun take on Waterloo Street's history'. Print Edition | Subscribe