Three times the party

Two Singapore theatre institutions mark significant anniversaries by teaming up with a trio of world-class directors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 5:47pm

In a climate of cross-cultural "big-ism" - where German-named giant robots and Japanese-inspired monsters rule in summer blockbuster Pacific Rim - the latest theatre event to hit Singapore is similarly gargantuan.

3 Titans of Theatre is a series of three plays by three world-renowned theatre directors, smartly packaged together by the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and the durian-spiked Esplanade performing arts venue. Shun-Kin, a sadomasochistic love story involving a blind shamisen player, by English writer-actor-director Simon McBurney, already took the stage at the Esplanade's 2,000-seat theatre. Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa's Musashi, a Zen comedy-drama about two duelling samurai, plays at the same theatre on November 8 and 9; while Peter Brook's The Suit, about a husband's bizarre reaction to his wife's adultery, is on at SRT's home theatre, the DBS Arts Centre in Robertson Quay.

By jointly presenting these productions, we have been able to pool our resources to enable these shows to come here
Gaurav Kripalani

"These three plays not only demonstrate each director's craft, but are also compelling stories in their own right," Esplanade chief executive officer Benson Puah says when he was asked why they put the plays from these three directors together.

Besides, he adds, these were "strong narratives that will engage any audience".

If the Esplanade and SRT had been dating before, you could say the 3 Titans project marks - well, nothing as official as a marriage - a commitment that involves sharing the responsibilities equally. Both the arts centre and the theatre company are celebrating milestone years: the Esplanade turns 10 in October, and SRT marks its 20th anniversary this year. When the Esplanade opened in 2003, it commissioned SRT to stage the Empress Dowager Cixi musical, Forbidden City, starring Singaporean pop singer Kit Chan. A hit, it was revived twice, and has been seen by almost 100,000 people.

Since then, the arts venue and company have partnered to present the Singapore runs of a few marquee Shakespeare productions from the West, featuring international stars such as Ethan Hawke ( The Winter's Tale), Sir Ian McKellen ( King Lear) and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey ( Richard III). The response to these productions presented with the Esplanade, says SRT, was "very encouraging, with good houses".

The 3 Titans is their first joint production. "For SRT's 20th anniversary," says artistic director Gaurav Kripalani, "we wanted to do something that would top us bringing Kevin Spacey here to perform in Richard III. When we found out that we could bring the work of three of the best theatre directors in the world to Singapore in one season, it was the perfect way to celebrate our birthday with Singapore."

"With major productions, the costs tend to be too high for SRT to take on a risk alone," he adds of bringing in the trio of plays with the Esplanade. "By jointly presenting these productions, we have been able to pool our resources to enable these shows to come here."

The SRT describes itself as "primarily a producing theatre", and produces seven shows of its own a year. Besides 3 Titans, its 2013 season has thus far included a staging of David Ives' Venus in Fur, helmed by New York-based Indonesian director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, and an outdoor production of Othello in Fort Canning Park.

Kripalani and Puah describe getting the three theatre greats to stage shows with them as "the stars aligning". Shun-Kin, by Complicite, the experimental British theatre company co-founded by McBurney, was co-created with actors from Tokyo's Setagaya Theatre and uses elements of traditional Japanese puppetry.

The Guardian's theatre critic Michael Billington hailed Ninagawa's Musashi as an "extraordinary theatrical event" in 2010. Written by the late Japanese playwright Hisashi Inoue, who died at age 75 of lung cancer in 2010, the play is a take on the legendary swordsman Musashi, from the version popularised by novelist Eiji Yoshikawa in the 1930s.

Incorporating Noh and Kyogen styles, 77-year-old Ninagawa's Musashi also boasts some contemporary allure: popular young actors Tatsuya Fujiwara, 31, star of teen flicks such as Battle Royale and Death Note, and Junpei Mizobata, 24, notable for his work in Fuji TV drama serials such as BOSS.

The last time the Ninagawa Company was in Singapore, to stage Macbeth and Medea for the Singapore Arts Festival in 1992, it took seven curtain calls.

Compared to the other Titans productions, Brook's The Suit is a more modest affair. The four-hander (with three musicians) tells the tale of a man who catches his wife in bed with her lover; the lover flees without his suit; said suit becomes the third party in a menage-a-trois of sorts, the cuckolded husband's revenge. Based on a novel by South African writer Can Themba, Brook's adaptation for Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord was originally in French.

Le Costume (its French title) was performed in Singapore in 2002. Brook has reworked the play in English and it is this new touring version that is being presented in 3 Titans, at SRT's 380-seat theatre.

"The three plays are based on literary works and these directors have inventively made them come alive to speak of the human condition," says Puah, adding that they are also yoked by the complexity of morality, "how what is right and wrong goes far deeper than how they appear".

An aptly titanic theme then, it would seem.


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Three times the party

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