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In the heat of the night

Halloween comes early to Singapore, bringing vampires and history in disguise.

Publication Date : 27-06-2012


The "Twilight" vampire movies probably had a lot to do with all the young people in the crowd of 150 participating in "Pandemic: They Only Come at Night" at the recent Singapore Arts Festival.

Britain-based company Slung Low concocted the play specifically for the venue, the Old School, which fittingly enough is soon to be demolished. Who would have thought a decrepit old academy in Singapore would be the last place on earth that was safe from vampires?

Everyone received a map of the building and a pair of headphones on which vampire fighters chattered. We were told to drink only from clearly marked bottles of water - as opposed to human necks, perhaps.

We passed through corridors and small rooms filled with signs of bloodsucker attacks and mustered in a cellar hall where the ghoul-busters debated at a rapid pace the best way to save us, the last survivors. It was a long scene in a poorly ventilated room on a hot evening, so we soon found the bottled water in boxes. One of the spectators actually fainted toward the end of the show.

We were next escorted a few floors up to the balcony of the school's auditorium. Luckily enough, the vampires hadn't bitten through the power lines and the air-conditioning was on, so we could watch in comfort as our saviours battled the undead in a deft shadow play.

John Hunter's script was suspenseful and had ample dramatic twists to distract from the heat, but it could have done with more elements linked to subtropical Southeast Asia rather than Britain.

And the troupe had to admit that it didn't have complete control of the building, hence the incongruous peeks at private quarters along the way - people working at computers and two men having dinner in their apartment.

Meanwhile the festival also presented "Lan Fang Chronicles 2012", a masterful blend of history and fiction assembled by Singapore's Choy Ka Fai.

The exhibition of ostensibly genuine documents, photographs and documentary video was open every day, chronicling the Lan Fang republic, a short-lived Hakka Chinese venture in 19th-century West Borneo. Making its allusion to the young republic of Singapore clear, it was presented in the Ying Fo Hui Kun ancestral temple, in the same area of the city where the Hakka clan settled late in that century.

As lectures by a researcher and archivist and a guided tour explained, these were "speculative" artefacts. Professional actors also read from the supposed diaries of visitors to Lan Fang and a Malay poem from the same period, adding intriguingly to the exhibition's validity and live feel.

By suggesting that history is never insignificant and playing |up the "his story" aspect in its |construction and its impact |on how truth is later perceived, Choy was in fact perhaps a little too subtle.

But talk about relevance! Two policemen arrived, responding to the complaint of someone in the neighbouring high-rise who had taken offence at the outdoor reciting of the Malay poem. The Hakka Chinese were again disturbing the peace.

Singapore's National Arts Council supported the writer's trip.



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