A trip to Bukit Brown Cemetery moves the folks behind Boom
SINGAPORE - A couple of weeks ago, playwright Jean Tay was at Bukit Brown Cemetery. It was a day trip that proved to be an eye-opener.
"It was a very powerful experience. I never realised how huge the site was - over a hundred thousand graves at least. You have entire communities, entire families buried there," she recounted.
It was a quick jaunt along with the team behind a new staging of Boom, Tay's critically-acclaimed O-Level text play that was first presented in 2008. It's now been brought back to life by new theatre company Sight Lines Productions, which had earlier staged the comedy musical revue Trainstopping.
Boom intertwines two narrative threads: A property agent trying to convince her mother to agree to the en bloc sale of their apartment, and a civil servant trying to convince a corpse to "move" from his cemetery plot because the lease is up. It stars a mix of veteran and up-and-coming actors: Andrew Lua, Erwin Shah Ismail, Amanda Tee, Benjamin Kheng and Fanny Kee, who reprises her 2008 role as the reluctant mother.
Of the two story threads, it was the first that proved timely when it was first staged. After all, Boom was inspired by and written during the property market boom and the en bloc phenomenon.
"I thought that there would be no chance of it being staged again, because it was so topical. But it has and it finds new resonances," said Tay, who pointed out issues like how Rochor Centre is to be torn down and how property redevelopment is still chugging along.
And then of course, there's the Bukit Brown Cemetery issue. And this trip has made Tay look at the other half of her play in a different light.
"It was only there that I got the full sense of how it is to lose a grave like that," she said, recounting the poignant images that have stuck with her. "There are these sticks that are meant to mark graves to be exhumed, and you see a whole row of them. And we even passed by a tomb that was currently being exhumed. The headstone was kind of shattered, there was blue plastic covering the mound itself. It's such a peaceful place and then you see something like that, this sense of destruction and desecration."
While the cemetery in the play is actually in Chua Chu Kang, director Derrick Chew hopes that people will be able to connect the dots. "It's not necessarily the physical location but the act of having to 'kill' the dead one more time. That's what's causing the uproar," he said.
"There are certain concrete things that our identity is grounded in," said Tay. "Once these are gone, there won't be any connection with the past."
Boom runs from June 29 to July 8, 8pm (Friday to Sunday), DBS Arts Centre. Tickets at S$40 to S$55 from Sistic. With 3pm matinees on Sundays.
By Mayo Martin
19 June 2012
Scene from Boom 1