Beyond Singular Celebration: The Paradox of the Singapore Theatre

Part 3.1 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Thiru Kandiah, PhD, formerly of the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998, by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, NUS, 1998-99.

Such ambiguities in the woman's struggle correspond with a similar radical ambivalence in the more encompassing post-colonial reconstructive endeavour of which it often is a valuable part. Theorisation of post-coloniality, as our General Introduction confirms, are generously sprinkled with terms such as 'turmoil', 'unsettling', 'destabilise', 'relative', 'gaps', 'nervous condition', 'tension', 'fragmentary', 'delirium', 'anxiety' and so on. These reinforce what we have just learned about the dangers of responding to the positive achievement of Emily as described in section 1.2 in too singularly celebratory a manner.

A closer look at the Singapore theatre reveals in it a curious paradox, which seems to justify such scepticism. On the one hand, this theatre displays enormous energy, regaling us with an extraordinary quantity and range of artistic performances, diverse in form, theme, technique and experience. Theatre critic T. Sasitharan observes that 'There is no doubt that the last twenty years of arts in Singapore, and the last seven especially, have been remarkable by any reckoning' (Life! The Straits Times, 23 February 1996). Yet, that does not prevent him from adding that 'it is by no means clear to me that the quality of artistic output today is any better than it was seven years ago... By most accounts, the quality of work by Singaporean artists is on the decline'. That, precisely, is the paradox - the persistent expression of a pronounced sense of insufficiency and non-arrival in the midst of celebrations of the creative energy and the activity of the stage.

The need to find an explanation for this paradox adds a further significance to our study of Emily. If indeed the play was the major catalyst in the emergence of the contemporary Singapore theatre, then we might ask ourselves whether it was itself marked by anything that might have anticipated or predicted the paradox.

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