Rail tales on the beaten track

Railway Records director Sharmila Yogalingam (in green, posing with her cast members) was inspired by her family's connection to the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to tell stories about the everyday man from different eras in Singapore's h
Railway Records director Sharmila Yogalingam (in green, posing with her cast members) was inspired by her family's connection to the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to tell stories about the everyday man from different eras in Singapore's history.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Catch Railway Records - inspired by fact, fiction and lives set around the rail over a century - on the bridge near the old Bukit Timah Railway Station

When runners pass the black truss bridge near the old Bukit Timah Railway Station today, they may see five people dressed as various characters, regaling an audience with stories.

The stories are part of Railway Records, a half-hour performance of monologues staged by production company Desert Wine under its Comfort Theatre Series.

Written, produced and directed by Sharmila Yogalingam, 33, the site-specific production weaves fact with fiction in five monologues that span 116 years, from the introduction of the passenger railway here in 1903 to the present day.

The stories are inspired by the lives of people who depended on the railway to get to Singapore, says Yogalingam.

The show features characters from different eras in Singapore's history, such as a grandfather rushing to the train station to pick up his daughter and her newborn in one monologue set in 1932.

Yogalingam was also inspired to stage the production because of her own family's connection to the nowdefunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

  • BOOK IT / RAILWAY RECORDS

  • WHERE: Black truss bridge near Old Bukit Timah Railway Station (near King Albert Park MRT station Exit B), along Dunearn Road

    WHEN: Today, 11am, noon, 1, 5.30, 6.15 and 6.45pm

    ADMISSION: Free, e-mail railwayrecords.sg@gmail.com or call 9052-2030 to reserve seats

    INFO: www.facebook.com/desertwine

Her late maternal grandfather held an administrative job in the goods office at the railway station from the 1930s to 1980s, and raised his six children - including Yogalingam's mother - in its workers' quarters.

"This performance started from something personal, then I realised a lot of Singaporeans used the railway and it holds meaning for many of us."

Holding the performance at the old Bukit Timah Railway Station's bridge was important to her.

The ambience of site-specific performances can transport audiences to a place that is more specific than what a constructed set can offer, she says.

This is the first time she is staging a production outside the conventional theatre.

"I think the black truss bridge is so iconic and reminds everyone of our train days and journeys... I thought I might as well use it."

With this performance, she hopes to spark good memories of the railway for audiences and entertain them with stories of the everyday man.

"I know we always hear of big stories about famous Singaporeans, but I think we common Singaporean folk also have little stories like these to tell."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline 'Rail tales on the beaten track'. Print Edition | Subscribe