Shophouse theatre for the Instagram generation

Director Stanley Seah (left) turns the Smith Street shophouse into a Housing Board flat for his play Watching; and director Goh Boon Teck (right) transforms it into a crime scene for Oedipus.
Director Stanley Seah (above) turns the Smith Street shophouse into a Housing Board flat for his play Watching; and director Goh Boon Teck transforms it into a crime scene for Oedipus.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS
Director Stanley Seah (left) turns the Smith Street shophouse into a Housing Board flat for his play Watching; and director Goh Boon Teck (right) transforms it into a crime scene for Oedipus.
Director Stanley Seah turns the Smith Street shophouse into a Housing Board flat for his play Watching; and director Goh Boon Teck (above) transforms it into a crime scene for Oedipus.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

Toy Factory Productions tests two works in an intimate space at 17A Smith Street, where viewers become part of the shows

Director Goh Boon Teck is turning two floors of a shophouse on Smith Street into a crime scene for Toy Factory Productions' upcoming play, Oedipus - as the theatre company launches another run of plays at its Chinatown venue.

There will be six shows from Sept 21 to 29 and at each, an audience of 40 gets to be part of a gritty crime scene, in which a disabled man has killed his mother.

A week later, from Oct 4 to 6, the space - renamed NOWPlaying@17 - will be turned into the interior of a Housing Board flat for the play Watching, written and directed by Stanley Seah. The play is about a young man waiting to start his national service and unsure of what to do with himself until then, apart from watch television.

Oedipus and Watching are the latest works Toy Factory is testing out in its shophouse.

In July last year, it tested four plays at the shophouse, all works developed under The Wright Stuff, an incubation and mentoring programme for playwrights and upcoming directors. One of the four works, dark relationship comedy Permanence, is now being developed for the main stage.

Toy Factory's artistic director Goh, 46, says runs at NOWPlaying@17 help to hone the troupe's work. "We can test the audience, test the writing, go back and deepen and shape it."

Oedipus, performed in Mandarin with no surtitles, is written by 20something Chinese playwright Zhu Xin Chen. Goh was struck and disturbed by the story, in which a police officer tries to find out why a disabled man whipped his mother to death. "It frightened me a lot," the director says.

  • BOOK IT / OEDIPUS

  • WHERE: NOWPlaying@17, 17A Smith Street

    WHEN: Sept 21, 8.30pm; Sept 22, 7 and 9.30pm; Sept 28, 8.30pm; Sept 29, 7 and 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: $36 from www.eventbrite.sg

    INFO: Performed in Mandarin without surtitles. Go to www.toyfactory.com.sg


    WATCHING

    WHERE: NOWPlaying@17, 17A Smith Street

    WHEN: Oct 4 and 5, 7.30pm; and Oct 6, 3 and 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $18 from www.eventbrite.sg

    INFO: www.toyfactory.com.sg

The setting puts the audience in the uncomfortable position of wandering around the crime scene - guided by cast and crew - to piece together what really happened.

It is "a mobile radio show", says Goh. "We're performing to the Instagram generation. It wants to be part of it."

Experiential theatre of a kind is becoming more popular in Singapore. Similar murder mystery productions include Body X: The Rehearsal directed by Li Xie and Danny Yeo at The Arts House in 2016, and Attempts: Singapore by Rei Poh at Centre 42 for January's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

Seah also has the audience play the part of fly-on-the-wall for Watching, a play set in the limbo period before a young Singaporean man has to enter NS.

"There are plays about reservist and the army, but nobody talks about that period before you go in, when nobody wants to hire you and you don't know what to do with your life," he says.

The play was one of the first scripts 27-year-old Seah sent to Toy Factory.

"I was really impressed," recalls Goh. "Stanley is someone special. We really wanted to work with him."

Since September last year, Seah has been an associate artistic director with the troupe, directing works such as Here And Beyond in July. That was a mammoth production at the School of the Arts' 421-seat Drama Theatre, adapting a short story anthology of the same name published by Ethos Books.

A 40-seat shophouse presents different challenges, notably how to place actors and audience in a limited space.

But Seah says: "It's liberating. It creates a change that the audience needs."

Goh adds: "It's stress-free, it's stripped down. It makes us more creative."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Shophouse theatre for the Instagram generation'. Print Edition | Subscribe