Real-life inspirations for railway monologues

Writer Sharmila Yogalingam (in green) with the cast of Railway Records at the black truss bridge near the old Bukit Timah Railway Station.
Writer Sharmila Yogalingam (in green) with the cast of Railway Records at the black truss bridge near the old Bukit Timah Railway Station.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE- When joggers run past the black truss bridge near the old Bukit Timah Railway Station this Saturday (March 30), they may see five people dressed as characters from the early 1900s to today, 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 33-year-old Sharmila Yogalingam, 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 were inspired by the lives of people who depended on the railways to get to Singapore, says Sharmila.

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.

Sharmila was also inspired to stage the production because of her own family's connection to the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

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

  • BOOK IT / RAILWAY RECORDS

  • WHERE: The old Bukit Timah Railway Station's black truss bridge, near King Albert Park MRT Station Exit B

    WHEN: Saturday, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 5.30pm, 6.15pm and 6.45pm

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

    INFO: www.facebook.com/desertwine

"This performance started from something personal, then I realised a lot of Singaporeans used the railways and they hold meaning for many of us."

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

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 it reminds everyone of our train days and journeys...I thought I might as well use it," she adds.

With this performance, Yogalingam hopes to spark good memories of the railways for audience members and entertain them with stories of the everyday man.

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