Without the emotional fug of the Litfest (the evening it was performed at Zouk I had reached meltdown point), this time I could relax and fully enjoy Riding the Nice Bus which formed the first half of the show. The Malaysian cast Fahmi Fadzil, Anne James, Edwin Sumon, Sukania Venugopal, and Reza Zainal Abidin moved seamlessly from story to story, making us laugh, plunging us into aching sadness. The show features pieces from Singapore's most important writers including Edwin Thumboo, Suchen Christine Lim, Alfian Sa'at, Felix Cheong, Eleanor Wong and Yong Shu Hoong.
Because I really hadn't known much about how our unlooked for Singaporean gift actually came into being, I enjoyed reading in the programme notes how the original "curators" of the show, Alvin Pang and Madeleine Lee approached director Krishen Jit for help with a "produced reading" for the festival:
"Performed literature," he admonished over lunch, "is a genre of its own and well known in other countries. You'd do well to use the correct term from now on."Yes sir!
But I must confess that I preferred the second half performance Tikam Tikam, where Malaysian texts were performed by the five Singaporean actors. It was the variety of texts I think that made the difference - not just from literary sources, but from interviews, folk tales, and articles and documents - and even from An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia!
The exact order of the texts (apart from the beginning and the ending) varies from performance to performance, based on a game of chance (Tikam-Tikam) played with the audience.
The Singaporean cast, Gani Abdul Karim, Lim Yu-Beng, Jonathan Lim, Neo Swee Lim and Karen Tan were excellent in bringing the very diverse extracts to life in a really entertaining way. Little moments, little snapshots of Malaysian life and culture, were randomly thrown to the audience.
The production has made me realise how much quality local literature is out there, and how neglected it is outside the university departments. And how much of it seems not to be available in the bookshops! (My biblioheart weeps for the copy of Adibah Amin's magical collection of essays As I Was Passing, which I lent to a student years ago, and never got back.)
It was also a lesson in the kind of cooperation that's possible between the two neighbouring countries. And between the members of a multi-ethnic cast.