BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2017: HOTEL at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

BWW Review: OZASIA FESTIVAL 2017: HOTEL at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival CentreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 30th September 2017.

Singapore's W!ld Rice Theatre, founded by Ivan Heng in 2000, brought their epic production, Hotel, to this year's OzAsia Festival. Five hours over two parts, with an interval in the first part, tells a century of Singapore's history, from 1915 to 2015, through the stories of the staff and of the guests who stay in a room in a "famous but unnamed hotel" (read, Raffles). Fourteen performers switch roles as the eleven scenes, one for each decade that passes, are played out, sometimes in a principal role, sometimes as part of the ensemble. The first part covers 1915 to1965 and the second part covers 1975 to 2015, sometimes with hilarity and sometimes with pathos.

The script is the product of the imaginations of the playwrights, Alfian Sa'at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, transformed into a remarkable theatrical event by the directors, Ivan Heng and Glen Goei. Not only do they require the actors to play a range of roles over the course of the production but, as an added level of difficulty, they are expected to speak in Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tamil, Japanese, Filipino, and Urdu. Surtitles were provided, projected onto a wall of the room as well as screens either side of the performance area.

That is quite a huge task that is set for the members of the ensemble: Brendon Fernandez, Ghafir Akbar, Sharda Harrison, Ivan Heng, Daniel Jenkins, Jo Kukathas, Dwayne Lau, Lee Chee Keng, Moo Siew Keh, Pam Oei, Siti Khalijah Zainal, Julie Wee, Yap Yi Kai, and Lina Yu.

Each of the eleven one-act plays can stand alone, complete in itself, but there are links between them, with characters and situations from earlier sections being referred to or reappearing in later sections, together building a picture of the history of Singapore. The first act, an Englishman bringing his Eurasian bride to their room, shows the cruelty of British Imperial rule, with the Indian soldiers involved in the Sepoy Mutiny about to be executed. Another act references Madame Butterfly, as the occupying Japanese force pulls out, with a soldier able to take his son to Japan, but not his local Malay "wife".

The stories told within the rooms relate to bigger, external stories, and the effects that events have on the people of Singapore. First, British rule ends and Singapore becomes part of Malaysia, later, Singapore gains independence, Lee Huan Yew comes to power, the history is all there. In 2005 we find persecution of Muslims, following the destruction of the twin towers and the fear of terrorism. In 1925 we find Cantonese girls sold into slavery. In 1975 we meet an American veteran with two transvestites whom he has picked up in Bugis Street, hilariously getting high on cocaine. There is another hilarious section with a spiritualist to rival Madam Arcati.

The expanse of this work is vast, yet contained within such a small setting, one hotel room, occupied by a few people in each scene. All of the performers had their chance to shine, and shine they did, thoroughly deserving the standing ovation. With luck, we will see this company back here again in future years.




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From This Author Barry Lenny