Four Horse Road: A fun take on Waterloo Street's history

Actors Johnny Ng (left) and Yazid Jalil acting as a bus driver and a teenager respectively in the theatre production Four Horse Road.
Actors Johnny Ng (left) and Yazid Jalil acting as a bus driver and a teenager respectively in the theatre production Four Horse Road. PHOTO: THE THEATRE PRACTICE

SINGAPORE - Some of the most alluring work from home-grown theatre group The Theatre Practice comes from its site-specific plays, and this production of Four Horse Road on Tuesday (April 10) at 54 Waterloo Street 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, 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.

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 a 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 onto, an audience's attention.

  • BOOK IT/FOUR HORSE ROAD

  • Where: The Theatre Practice, 54 Waterloo Street

    When: Until April 28 (Tues to Sun), 7.30pm

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

In one standout segment, a teenager, played by actor Yazid Jalil, hijacks a bus and resists a bus driver, played by theatre veteran Johnny Ng.

Building on actual incidences 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.