One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road has its moments but is too repetitive

From left: Actors Ong Kian Sin, Yong Ser Pin, Tan Beng Tian, Michael Tan and Tay Kong Hui performing their roles in One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.
From left: Actors Ong Kian Sin, Yong Ser Pin, Tan Beng Tian, Michael Tan and Tay Kong Hui performing their roles in One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALBERT LIM
Actors Ong Kian Sin (left), and Yong Ser Pin in the theatre production One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, which was performed at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.
Actors Ong Kian Sin (left), and Yong Ser Pin in the theatre production One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, which was performed at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALBERT LIM
(From left) Actors Tan Beng Tian, Tay Kong Hui and Michael Tan in the theatre production One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, which was performed at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.
(From left) Actors Tan Beng Tian, Tay Kong Hui and Michael Tan in the theatre production One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, which was performed at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALBERT LIM

SINGAPORE - Choosing the Sungei Road flea market - Singapore's oldest flea market, which was shut down by the authorities in July last year - as a play's subject is certain to arouse emotions.

For those opposed to the closure, the wounds are still raw, the dust unsettled. Perhaps this verbatim play One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road, presented by local theatre company Wild Rice and performed at The Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts on Friday (July 20), is trying to capitalise on the topic's freshness, recording the voices of various parties linked to the market - vendors, visitors, the authorities and more - as best as it can.

In this aspect, the work, directed by veteran theatre practitioner Zelda Tatiana Ng, succeeded in presenting a balanced range of views and emotions, from angry dissatisfaction to wistful resignation towards the loss of the vendors' livelihood. There was even the odd moment of wry humour thrown in for good measure.

What dragged the show down was a tendency to repeat itself and its rather long duration of 100 minutes without an intermission.

Indeed, when some audience members started clapping because they thought the show had ended when it had not - which happened more than once - it was not a good sign.

The stories told, many dripping with sentiment and nostalgia, some in Mandarin and dialects, were themselves fascinating.

The colourful vendor Liang Po Po, for example, proclaimed in Hokkien: "I carry more brands than Mustafa", and hilariously compared her stall to Orchard Road shops.

  • BOOK IT/ONE METRE SQUARE: VOICES FROM SUNGEI ROAD

  • Where: The Singapore Airlines Theatre, Lasalle College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street

    When: Saturday (July 21) and Sunday (July 22), 3 and 7.30pm

    Admission: $60 and $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    Info: Advisory (some mature content)

Actress Tan Beng Tian played the character with much nuance, using her tone of voice and mannerisms to express a tension in the character - between feeling proud and sadly accepting her situation in life.

Another standout performer was veteran actor Yong Ser Pin, who milked the melancholy from his line "once it's gone, it's gone", in reference to the flea market.

With a set littered with second-hand items - corded telephones, wrinkled clothes and pieces of Chinese calligraphy - the ghosts of the past were palpable, and the market's closure felt like a scattering of one's precious memories to the wind.

But when this rose-tinted desire to preserve cultural heritage was expressed again and again, the delivery lost its impact.

Perhaps a way to tighten the script and prevent the audience from falling asleep - which some noticeably did - was to cut out the repetitions and focus on lines that were powerful and concise.

Indeed, the playwright, who goes by the pseudonym Sanmu, said in the show's programme that he was "constantly worried" he had left out important details.

He need not have been so anxious. Sometimes, less is more, and a story about the loss of a treasured Singapore icon might be more keenly felt if it were not so long-drawn.