Main Tulis Group: The plays and playwrights we love

3 minutes read

As a collective, we have always been very big on supporting and being cheerleaders for our fellow playwrights in the scene. In this open love letter, we list our favourite local plays - the ones that made us fall in love with theatre, and have touched us irrevocably, as both audience members and playwrights. This list also reflects our respective starting points in theatre, as most of these came to us in our early years in the scene. These plays that have moved us serve as sources of inspiration, learning, and growth for us as writers, helping us to refine our craft and develop our voices.

Nabilah's favourite play

Bilik by Noor Effendy Ibrahim (part of the trilogy Bilik Ahmad Berdaki)

This was my first taste of contemporary Malay theatre and I loved the contrast between the veneer of civility of the language and the suckerpunch of violence in the play. Fendy used elements of Malay society that are considered positive, like the closeness of family, manners and culture, and turned them on their head to make a larger point about society. It blew my mind. My secret wish is to adapt or respond to it one day.

FD's favourite play

Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa by Irfan Kasban / Teater Ekamatra (2012) at The Substation Theatre

I remember being mesmerised by the set when I entered the space and later by the stories. The writing was so remarkable and I said to myself “Wow, I want to write like that”, “I want to leave an impact like that.” I keep those feelings with me and try to apply that every time I embark on a piece of writing.

Nessa's favourite plays

Dan Tinggal Tiga Baju Raya by Zulfadli Rashid (2008)

I read for this play in a community centre setting way back when and I fell in love with it because it was such a simple story of friendship and memory. It inspired my first play, Riders Know When It’s Gonna Rain.

Merah Pawana by Rafaat Hamzah / Teater Ekamatra (2010) at Fort Canning Gate

I think this is one play that needs more study, not just because of its sheer magnitude, scale and collaboration between the theatre, dance and musical side of the Singapore Malay arts scene, but also because of the language, the musical writing and the characters.

Sab's favourite plays

Hawa by Johnny Jon Jon (2015)

This was the first play I watched that actually discussed the tensions that exist in the intersections between queerness, sexuality, and Malay culture and Islamic religion. I think it’s a play that needs the space to reach out to more audiences purely because it doesn’t shy away from a topic that is often silenced within Malay homes, and does it by focusing on the human behind it. 10/10, will tug at your heartstrings.

Ring-A-Ring-O’-Rosie by Hatch Theatrics (2014)

Not the most polished play, but definitely one of the most fun. The sense of play and experimentation in this piece left me inspired. It’s easy to think all plays need to do something, or address its themes in a serious manner. Ring-A-Ring-O’-Rosie is theatrical experimentation taken to the extreme of whimsy.

Ahmad's favourite play

… dan tiga dara terbang ke bulan by Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit

This play best captures a nostalgic kampung life, something that is so removed from me, but given how formidable and layered the play was, it made me wish I had spent a childhood of that heritage. The play also investigates the enduring bond of friendship - after all, the closest of friendships would survive anything, right? Including the pain of separation, loss and change. Its surrealist form was deeply rooted in relatable delirium or mania without imposing this projection of an absurdist reality. This keeps audiences and readers grounded in the complexity of the world of the play. The play also was rich in Malay aphorisms and platitudes, and plot-wise, it contained levels of conflict and imaginative play – I was entertained reading it, and was equally entertained watching the actors have fun on stage inhabiting those characters. Alin’s ability to milk the cultural codes of Ramadan and the cultural specificity of a kampung childhood is truly what makes the play a joyous time capsule that also acts as a gift that continues giving.

Hazwan's favourite plays

94:05 by Irfan Kasban (2013)

I’ve always loved and preferred theatre that was more intimate in nature, and 94:05 was beautifully so. Not only was the writing beautiful, but it was very smart in how it employed theatricality to tell a story. It didn’t try too hard, but just enough that you find yourself contemplating the futility of life and death with the character. I am also fond of plays that can make monologues interesting and engaging.

Charged by Chong Tze Chien (2015)

Charged, on the other hand, felt really, really urgent in nature. I remember feeling extremely… well… charged with anxious energy watching this in a state that doesn’t want us to divide ourselves by race, but yet has institutionalised it anyway. The most powerful scene, for me, was when Hakim’s mother comes quietly on stage to address the crowd in a press conference about her son’s death. It was everything condensed into a point of singularity. It was powerful.

Raimi's favourite play

Turn by Turn We Turn by The Finger Players

I remember watching this together with my uni mates. We were all sitting in a row, not entirely sure what we were in for, and left the theatre practically sobbing.

And I think that encapsulates the magic of theatre. It moves you, wrings something from the inside, quite irrevocably so. Nevermind the language barrier, good (or even not so good) theatre is magic.