Relooking urban change via Prism

Actor Fir Rahman (centre) plays the lead role of Aman in Toy Factory Productions' stripped-down version of Prism, which was first staged in 2003.
Actor Fir Rahman (centre) plays the lead role of Aman in Toy Factory Productions' stripped-down version of Prism, which was first staged in 2003.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

In 2003, writer-director Goh Boon Teck brought in a cast and crew from six countries and developed Prism, a US$1-million production lamenting urban change.

This year, Goh's Toy Factory Productions stages a stripped-down, all-Singaporean version of the play. It runs at the Drama Centre Theatre from Feb 23 to March 5.

Goh plans to do more with less: The budget is down to $280,000 and the script is trimmer and has a more nuanced take on urban development.

A key plot point has been altered. Thousands must move out of the fictional Surrounding City to make way for a much-needed nuclear power plant, rather than a chemical weapons factory, as in the original.

Goh says: "We don't want this play to be anti-development. We are here to question."


  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Feb 23 to March 5, 3pm (all days except Feb 23), 8pm (all days)

    ADMISSION: $42 to $75 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: In English. For more details, go to

Prism was originally commissioned by Japan's Kageboushi Theatre Company to celebrate ties between Japan and Asean in 2003. The cast and crew came from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.

The script was multilingual and the staging included gamelans and martial arts. The play travelled to all six countries.

Reviewers here hailed the idea, choreography and minimalist visuals, but spoke against the one-note preachiness of the script where modernity was evil.

Goh laughs at his old self. "Wah, I was so ambitious. Why did I put in so many things?"

He saws the air with his hands. "Cut, cut cut," he says.

He chose not to direct the play this time, handing the reins over to actor Rei Poh because "another director might have a more truthful perspective" on the script. Also, he adds, "the next generation has to be pushed forward".

Poh, 35, who recently returned to Singapore after studying directing at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, will ditch the original score by Malaysian composer Saidah Rastam for one featuring local elements such as xinyao and dikir barat.

Choreography will be by dancer Goh Shou-Yi, who created work for T.H.E. Dance Company. Architect Leong Hon Kit makes his debut as set designer.

The theme of urban renewal hits home for the show's lead actor Fir Rahman, 35, known for his lead role in the critically acclaimed Boo Junfeng film, Apprentice (2016).

He recently had to give up his family flat in the Toa Payoh area after his parents died.

His character, Aman, has to convince people to leave their homes which he finds hard.

Yet as the father of a young son and infant daughter, he also knows that "Aman is just doing his job, to develop the Surrounding City for the generations to come".

He sighs. "It's a good script."

Goh hopes Prism will remind viewers of ongoing tussles such as redevelopment plans for Dakota Crescent. Dwellers are lobbying to conserve the housing estate.

Why is this debate important? Goh brings up the former National Theatre in Fort Canning which was built in 1963 with people contributing "a dollar a brick".

"Our generation doesn't realise there's any reason to build, to use our hands, to rally around. They are given everything: a new gallery, a new F1 track," he says. "When we want to build culture, it has to be a national effort."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Relooking urban change via Prism'. Print Edition | Subscribe