M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2020 takes inspiration from pioneer poet Lee Tzu Pheng

The theme of this festival, which runs from Jan 8 to 19 next year, is My Country And My People, inspired by Lee Tzu Pheng's 1967 poem of the same name. PHOTO: BENEDICT LAU

SINGAPORE - From a time-travelling cabaret show to an utopian social experiment set in 2075, the 16th edition of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival casts back and forwards through time to question what unites a country and at what cost.

The theme of this festival, which runs from Jan 8 to 19 next year, is My Country And My People, inspired by Lee Tzu Pheng's 1967 poem of the same name, which was banned from performance on radio without an official explanation. For three years, the festival has drawn thematically on an iconic work by a female Singapore artist.

Fringe artistic director Sean Tobin, who wraps up his six-year directorship with this edition, says of Lee's poem: "I love her quiet but firm voice, and how she addresses our struggles to stay connected in a 'developing' society, and a struggling planet."

"In Tzu Pheng's poem, she says 'careful tending of the human heart may make a hundred flowers bloom'. Good art works can help us tend to matters of the heart. We collectively stop and make careful observations; we set aside time for close listening, sitting alongside one other embarking on reflective journeys.

"In some cases the works will be thoughtfully immersive and interactive, and the audience have a great deal of agency in the experience. I think we are all tired of hostile polarising debate, and really need more time and space processing life's events and challenges together."

Home-grown theatre company The Necessary Stage returns to the Fringe line-up after five years with Kebaya Homies, a musical romp through Singaporean Malay history and culture. It is centred on the traditional outfit of the kebaya and narrated by Aidli Mosbit and Siti Khalijah Zainal, who play perempuan-perempuan joget (dancing girls).

It interweaves these stories with scenes from playwright Haresh Sharma's past works written for the actors. Likewise, in Contemplating Kopitiam And Kampong Wa'Hassan, Singaporean theatre-maker Oliver Chong combines text from the two seminal plays of the title by Kuo Pao Kun and Alfian Sa'at with verbatim interviews from the millennial cast.

Displacement features in works such as Beside Ourselves, a "live concept album" by Singaporean electronica duo .gif; No Place by America's Square One Collective, in which a political exile, a former radical and a climate refugee take part in a social experiment in the year 2075; and Cafe Sarajevo by bluemouth inc. of Canada, which makes use of 360-degree video, music, dance and games to follow co-creator Lucy Simic's travels to her father's birthplace, Bosnia.

Audiences will also get to immerse themselves and participate in works such as A Tiny Country, in which 20 people per show will be tasked with nation-building responsibilities for a country that will experience a hostile takeover in 10 years; and Secretive Thing 215, in which participants, armed with just their mobile phones and headphones, are sent on a mission for a mysterious medical institute.


WHERE: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive; Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street; Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 80 Bencoolen Street; and The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

WHEN: Jan 8 to 19, 2020

ADMISSION: $15 (Fresh Fringe) to $27 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

INFO: singaporefringe.com

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