Singapore playwright Chong Tze Chien has been accused of wanting to humanise Hitler in his upcoming play Starring Hitler As Jekyll & Hyde. But he says the idea is not to make the genocidal dictator warm and fuzzy, but to remind the audience that everyone harbours the ability to create horror.
Chong, 41, refers to the state-led pogrom against Jews in Germany during the 1940s and says: "Hitler wasn't the only one behind the Holocaust. An entire population allowed it to happen. How could a whole population allow this to happen?"
Starring Hitler As Jekyll & Hyde runs from Oct 13 to 15 at the Victoria Theatre and is the first by The Finger Players in a planned trilogy about the Fuhrer. The second, The Fuhrer's Work, recently had a script reading at Centre 42 in Waterloo Street and is based on the discovery of a painting done by Hitler.
Starring Hitler As Jekyll & Hyde also looks at Hitler the artist. The title riffs off the Robert Louis Stevenson story, Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, about a man with a monstrous ego.
BOOK IT / STARRING HITLER AS JEKYLL & HYDE
WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place WHEN: Oct 13 to 15, 8pm
ADMISSION: $35 to $55 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
INFO: The performance is rated Advisory 16 (mature content)
In Chong's play, Hitler is an artist in the Jekyll persona, while the Hyde ego is a dictator who uses an entire country to gratify his sense of self.
The troupe's online announcement of the work in August offended at least one Jewish person. The user, whose grandparents were killed during the Holocaust, commented on Facebook that the play was "insanely inconsiderate" and "disrespectful".
Before rehearsals at Cairnhill Arts Centre, Chong and his six actors make clear that the point of the play is not to soften history, but to remind audiences that similar horrors have occurred and continue to occur in the world around us.
Daniel York, who plays Hitler, brings up Indonesia's anti-Chinese massacres in 1965.
Edith Podesta plays Hitler's wife Eva Braun. She brings up the anti- foreigner sentiment which led to Brexit, which is bubbling against immigrants in Europe and also in Singapore against foreign workers.
The 37-year-old actress says: "When I think of Hitler, I think about massive numbers of people being shunted out of their homes, being stamped and badged as 'other'. A group of people being asked to move out of a community - it's something that's happening all over the world today."
An earlier version of the play was staged by theatre students at the Lasalle College of the Arts in 2013, when Podesta headed the bachelor's degree programme in acting. At the time, there were heated discussions about the population White Paper projecting 6.9 million residents in Singapore.
Lasalle graduate Lian Sutton played Jekyll in 2013 and now takes the role of a police officer. He feels the story is even more relevant today, given rising xenophobia. As the holder of a British passport and a Malaysian permanent residency, he knows what it is like to be at home in different countries and also be an outsider.
Appropriately and inadvertently, the cast embodies the diversity Nazi Germany tried to stamp out. York is British, Podesta is Australian, while actors Julius Foo and Joshua Lim are Singaporean.
Then there is Malaysian actress- director Jo Kukathas, 53, whose stepmother is of Austrian descent. She felt compelled to tell her stepmother of her involvement in the play, just so it would not come as a shock.
Even without that familial tie, she says: "I don't think it's possible to be disconnected from the Holocaust, no matter where you are."
York, 51, brings up the anti-Mexican rhetoric of Trump as a parallel to Hitler's anti-Jewish speeches. He points out that both found followers, large numbers of people who agreed with the hate speech.
"That's what's interesting - for people to watch the play and see that Hitler could be any one of us."