Vault Articles on Singapore Theatre

In The Vault, Centre 42 invites artists to create contemporary responses to older Singapore plays. With every Vault project, we take the opportunity to educate the public about Singapore theatre. So in the lead up to every Vault presentation, we publish a series of articles providing information about:

The Plays

  • About “Wills and Secession”

    About “Wills and Secession”

    Wills and Secession is the second play in Eleanor Wong’s landmark trilogy Invitation to Treat, which features Ellen Toh, an ambitious lawyer and gay woman.
  • The Desert Blooms

    The Desert Blooms

    An accompanying exhibition, titled The Desert Blooms, features nine of these plays. The exhibition details who, when and how these plays were created, and also touched on any resistance these plays might have encountered when they were staged for the first time. The Desert Blooms exhibition runs from 30 Nov…
  • About “One Year Back Home”

    About “One Year Back Home”

    One Year Back Home is the second play of Robert Yeo's The Singapore Trilogy. One Year Back Home is set in 1972, five years after the first play Are You There, Singapore?. Hua and her brother Chye, and their mutual friend Fernandez return home to Singapore after completing their studies…
  • About “Three Children”

    About “Three Children”

    Synopsis Three Children is about three grown-up siblings – two sisters and a brother – returning to their childhood home on Kappan Road in Malacca. There is no linear narrative in the play. Instead, the three characters (and a narrator) race through a mindboggling series of children’s songs, games and…
  • About “Emily of Emerald Hill”

    About “Emily of Emerald Hill”

    First Stagings Stella Kon first wrote Emily of Emerald Hill in 1982. With the play, she won the 1983 Singapore National Playwriting Competition – organised by the Ministry of Culture – for the third time. Kon had previously won the competition in 1977 with The Bridge and 1982 with The Trial. Up till Emily, Kon’s plays had not been…
  • About My Grandfather’s Road (2015)

    About My Grandfather’s Road (2015)

    "When I wrote [My Grandfather’s Road], I didn't know what I wanted to do, but at the end I realised it was about mortality and, more importantly, about renewing your relationships with people.” - Neo Kim Seng
  • The Plays of “Absence Makes the Heart…”

    The Plays of “Absence Makes the Heart…”

    The Vault: Absence Makes the Heart... looks at the portrayal of Indian characters in Singapore English-language plays throughout history. Here are the plays whose excerpts are performed in Absence, as well as information about their first stagings.
  • About The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole

    About The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole

    Synopsis The monologue by Kuo Pao Kun is centred on a man who has been tasked to oversee the funeral of his grandfather. It emerges that the grand coffin is too large to fit into the standard-sized grave that has been dug at the cemetery, so the man ends up…
  • About No Parking On Odd Days

    About No Parking On Odd Days

    Synopsis Kuo Pao Kun’s 1984 monologue examines the rigidity – and sometimes absurdity – of bureaucracy through a series of confrontations that a man has with the authorities over parking tickets. First Stagings The English version of No Parking On Odd Days was first staged on 2 June 1986 at the Shell…
  • About “Playing Mothers”

    About “Playing Mothers”

    Playing Mothers is an exploration of the concept of motherhood. The play follows seven characters, both female and male, and all mothers in their own way. In a Straits Times article dated 10 Jan 1996, playwright Ovidia Yu said "anyone can mother a child regardless of gender." Yu took four…
  • About “The Lunar Interviews”

    About “The Lunar Interviews”

    The Lunar Interviews is a series of seven monologues in which moon goddesses Chang Er, Diana, and Hina – from Chinese, Roman, and Polynesian mythologies respectively – recount tales of both divine creation and mundane loneliness. The stories touch on themes of creativity, motherhood, and relationships.
  • About Stoma

    About Stoma

    Stoma – which refers to a natural opening in the body – is a play written by Elangovan, centring on a disgraced former priest who had been defrocked over alleged sex abuse. Over seven scenes, he undergoes a surreal, graphic process of confession to seek redemption.

The Playwrights

  • Interview with Ng Yi-Sheng

    Interview with Ng Yi-Sheng

    "I would like there to be a sense of heritage. If you’re queer and if you choose to see yourself as part of the queer community, you should have a Singaporean heritage to look back on. And literature and drama is a part of how this heritage emerged."
  • Tan Tarn How – Life Events

    Tan Tarn How – Life Events

    Tan Tarn How (1960-) has, at various points in his life, been a teacher, a journalist, a scriptwriter and a research fellow. However, he is best known as one of Singapore's landmark playwrights with his bold, award-winning works which have certainly pushed boundaries over the years. The timeline below charts…
  • Haresh Sharma

    Haresh Sharma

    "When I started writing plays, no one could tell me what was right or wrong. Certain rules I made up." - Haresh Sharma
  • Kuo Pao Kun – Life Events

    Kuo Pao Kun – Life Events

    "Life has been exceedingly kind and generous to me." - Kuo Pao Kun
  • INVISIBILITY written by Quah Sy Ren

    INVISIBILITY written by Quah Sy Ren

    About the Playwright: Quah Sy Ren is an associate professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Chinese division at Nanyang Technical University. His main research interests are in Chinese Literature and the history of Singapore Theatre. Quah also sits on the board of directors for Practice Performing Arts…

The Context

  • 3 Key Events in Singapore Queer History

    3 Key Events in Singapore Queer History

    Early queer-themed theatre works in Singapore often responded to events which directly affected the LGBTQ community. The Vault: Desert Blooms recounts several key moments in history between the years 1985 and 1995 which provided fodder and impetus for theatre-makers to create work. Here are three important events in Singapore queer…
  • Singapore Theatre in the 1970s

    Singapore Theatre in the 1970s

    “Theatre is dead, really.” With original English-language plays by the likes of Lim Chor Pee and Goh Poh Seng in the 1960s, it seemed like Singapore theatre was off to a promising start. But just a decade into Singapore’s independence, it was Goh that made the above statement calling time…
  • Singapore Theatre in the 1980s

    Singapore Theatre in the 1980s

    The 1980s were an exciting time for Singapore theatre, and English-language drama in particular. In his essay Singapore English Theatre: Dynamic and Diverse, which traces the history of local English-language theatre, Robin Loon called the 80’s the “first golden age of Singapore theatre”, a period which would extend into the…
  • Shifting Sands: Pasir Panjang Land Reclamation

    Shifting Sands: Pasir Panjang Land Reclamation

    Singapore's fast-changing landscape has always been rich fodder for the work of local theatremakers. There was Stella Kon's landmark monologue Emily of Emerald Hill (1984), in which an aged Emily Gan laments the new apartment blocks surrounding her mansion on Emerald Hill. There was also Drama Box's It Won't Be…
  • Losing the English Advantage

    Losing the English Advantage

    In colonial Singapore, English literacy among the Asiatic population – Chinese, Malays and Indians – was alarmingly low. In a 1935 report in the Malaya Tribune, the 1931 population census found that: However, among the three largest ethnic groups in Singapore, the Indian population led the way in English literacy.…
  • The Bilingual Policy

    The Bilingual Policy

    A lot of factors go into the decline of languages in a country, but here are some events in Singapore history that led to the diminished use of Chinese dialects among the Chinese population.
  • Singapore Theatre in the 1990s

    Singapore Theatre in the 1990s

    Sea was written and staged in the 1990s, an exciting decade for the local theatre scene. Singapore plays were being written and produced by local professional theatre companies. The government found value in the arts for the future of Singapore and aggressively pursued its development. But the growth was also…
  • #7 – A tense 1964

    #7 – A tense 1964

    1964 was a significant milestone in Singapore’s history, a period of tension amidst the uncertainty and hope of forging a new identity. Various views about the Merger: A recording of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s address, in Mandarin and English, on the Agreement to set up Malaysia by 31 August…
  • #6 – The golden age of Singapore music

    #6 – The golden age of Singapore music

    Plug in to this short 1964 playlist of music tracks by some of the many popular local bands in the ’60s: The Crescendos (pop band) Naomi and the Boys (pop band) The Checkmates (guitar band) The Quests (guitar band)   1960s: The Golden Age of Singapore Music. View “It all started,…
  • #5 – Cabaret Girls in the limelight

    #5 – Cabaret Girls in the limelight

    Singapore. Neon lights at night, 1960s. There were the three “Worlds” which lit up Singapore’s nightlife in the ’50s and ’60s: New World Park. View “New World was famous for its cabarets, Chinese and Malay opera halls, shops, restaurants, open-air cinemas, boxing arenas, and shooting galleries. … New World’s cabarets were so raved…
  • #4 – The local ‘Mad Men’ era

    #4 – The local ‘Mad Men’ era

    We gleaned an insight into the design aesthetics and advertising sensibilities of the 1960s in Singapore, from the programme books of the staged productions of When Smiles Are Done and A White Rose At Midnight. Many of the advertisers and perhaps sponsors’ of the staged plays were automobile brands, beauty/cosmetics…
  • #3 – The exchange: “Let local clubs not be too proud to learn from expatriate clubs.”

    #3 – The exchange: “Let local clubs not be too proud to learn from expatriate clubs.”

    The following provides a snapshot of the exchanges between Lim Chor Pee and M.E. Constant (member of Stage Club), sparked off from a Radio Forum in 1964 about amateur theatre in Singapore:   M.E. Constant: “Amateurs on stage: a defence” (Straits Times Saturday Forum, 10 Oct 1964). View. “I really…

The Theatremakers

  • Five Times Drama Box Broke New Ground

    Five Times Drama Box Broke New Ground

        Established in 1990 by Kok Heng Leun, the founding artistic director, Drama Box is a theatre company that is best known for staging socially-engaging works in both English and Mandarin. Over the last 26 years, it has collected many “firsts” in its quest to push boundaries and experiment…
  • A Brief History of spell#7

    A Brief History of spell#7

    spell#7 was founded in 1997 by husband-and-wife team, Paul Rae and Kaylene Tan. The couple met at the University of Bristol in England when they were studying drama. For the first two years of spell#7, Rae and Tan managed all aspects of their performances themselves, from writing and acting, to…
  • Christina Sergeant – Life Events

    Christina Sergeant – Life Events

    Christina Sergeant (1955-2013) was an actress, director and educator who was both a pioneer and builder of Singapore English-language theatre. The timeline below presents selected events from Sergeant's life. Click on each tab to find out what happened during the year.
  • History of The Theatre Practice

    History of The Theatre Practice

      Sources: Images at the Margins: A collection of Kuo Pao Kun’s Plays. (2000). Singapore: Times Media. – Kuo Pao Kun The Theatre Practice – Milestones The Substation – History The Finger Players Intercultural Theatre Institute   By Daniel Teo Published on 9 October 2015 The Vault: Big Bird…

The Vault Artists & Processes

  • Conducting documentation in TS3103 Theatre Lab: “Ties That Bind”

    Conducting documentation in TS3103 Theatre Lab: “Ties That Bind”

    A collection of documentation outputs produced by the TS3013 Theatre Lab students
  • Timeline of “Ties That Bind”

    Timeline of “Ties That Bind”

    This timeline documents the students' and Centre 42's activities and the development of the students' performance responses as the COVID-19 situation unfolded.
  • Interview with Eugene Koh, Lee Shu Yu & Brenda Tan

    Interview with Eugene Koh, Lee Shu Yu & Brenda Tan

    Written in 1982, Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill is one of the most well-known and beloved plays in the Singapore English-Language Theatre canon. And now, 36 years after the monodrama was first written, a group of young theatre practitioners have decided to revisit the work and examine it in…
  • Interview with Neo Kim Seng

    Interview with Neo Kim Seng

    "There is a strong emotional attachment to the sound of Cantonese although I may not fully understand the words. The project is about reconnecting to a relegated language, sound and people." - Neo Kim Seng
  • Kiran Kumar

    Kiran Kumar

    Born in Bangalore and based in Singapore, Kiran Kumar is an artist, researcher and writer who specialises in dance-centric projects. He first graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2006 and began his career as an information technology analyst, but he was lured into the world of dance and…
  • Collaborative Writing

    Collaborative Writing

    Collaborative writing can be hugely challenging. Without a strategy, writing a play in a group would just be a matter of whoever has the strongest pair of lungs, as was the case with the seven men who collectively wrote the 1971 play Lay By at the Royal Court Theatre in…
  • Chong Tze Chien

    Chong Tze Chien

    "After my fifth play, people pointed out how my characters always die at one point or another. I wasn’t conscious of the fact. For me, there’s something very serene about death. My attitude towards death-as-a-fact-of-life has always been one that gives me peace of mind." - Chong Tze Chien
  • Robin Loon

    Robin Loon

    "One, to do absolutely nothing, if I can afford such a lifestyle. Two, to be involved in theatre. Three, to travel. If I can't do any one of them, I think I'll teach. Teaching would give me a chance to promote theatre in the schools, which is where we have…
  • Margaret Chan

    Margaret Chan

    "My mother told me that the neighbours used to like to come and see how I play with my dolls. I would give each doll a name and a complex role." - Margaret Chan
  • Reflections on The Vault: #3 three

    Reflections on The Vault: #3 three

    The Vault: #3 three revisits Quah Sy Ren's Invisibility through the eyes of theatre design collective INDEX. We asked the three INDEX designers to reflect on the conceptualisation and development of their works in this design-centred series. A short summary video of the respective installation accompanies each designers' reflections.
  • SCALE 1:333 333.333… artist: Lim Wei Ling

    SCALE 1:333 333.333… artist: Lim Wei Ling

    Lim Wei Ling is a full-time spatial designer of stage and installations. As a firm believer of multi-disciplinary, collaborative art-making, Wei Ling often teams up with artists and designers from diverse backgrounds. She is part of the design triumvirate INDEX, who frequently bring their lighting, sound and spatial design expertise…
  • FOR THE TIME BEING artist: Darren Ng

    FOR THE TIME BEING artist: Darren Ng

    “Do what you can, what you love and what you believe in. Don’t do it otherwise.” - Darren Ng