Censorship Culture Jams Playwright Twice in a Row

Posted by under News on 11 April 2001

Russell Heng's Half Century arrives on the stage six years after Theatreworks called off a planned production because of political considerations in 1995.

Half Century tells the story of a playwright being called up by the Internal Security Department for questioning while he was directing his own play on political detention. After the ISD detained him, the rest of the cast were thrown into confusion, not knowing what to do when reality caught up with art. The play uses the 1987 mass detention of alleged Marxist conspirators as an emotional touchstone.

Heng says: "In 1996, when I asked TheatreWorks why it was not going ahead with the play, the managing director Tay Tong told me they were advised by the authority not to rock the boat, given the times as they were." As Heng was then busy writing his thesis in Australia, he let the matter rest there.

The year 1995 was tense for writers and artists because of two incidents that happened the year before. The government cracked down, first, on performance art after Josef Ng scattered some of his pubic hair on stage, and second, on writers straying into the political arena after Catherine Lim wrote two poliical commentaries in The Straits Times.

TheatreWorks feels confident enough in 2001 to resurrect the script. The play will be on at the Black Box, TheatreWorks, Fort Canning Rise from 12 -14 April, 8 pm. Tickets at $10 each available at the door.

Come and judge for yourself what all the fuss was about.

Heng says: "I did not write a controversial play. The problem with Singapore is it has a very low threshold for controversy."

This is Heng's second play. His first "Lest The Demons Get To Me" also ran into censorship problems. It was only granted a performance permit in 1992 four years after the first intended production.

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