Dig deeper: Reception and Interpretation

 

Here you will find a range of responses from critics and audiences, as well as some of our own reflections.

For copyright reasons, Straits Times coverage is summarised rather than reproduced.

National Language Class © 2016

 

Dig deeper: Reception and Interpretation

 

Here you will find a range of responses from critics and audiences, as well as some of our own reflections. For copyright reasons, Straits Times coverage is summarised rather than reproduced.

  • 2016 Straits Times Review

    Cheong Suk Wai, ‘A Class to Unite the Nation’, Straits Times, Life!, 25 January 2016

     

    The first half of the review summarises the historical and cultural contexts of the performance by telling the story of Chua Mia Tee’s painting. The second half includes a range of interpretations and evaluations. Cheong praises the writing (“very clever indeed”) and pacing (“the minutes zipped by”), though while she appreciates Effendy’s “assured, oft-tender performance embodying his community’s readiness to help others” and Tan’s “fresh-faced earnestness”, she notes that the former lacked “bile”, and the latter, “guile.” Cheong interprets the Student’s repeated confusion of “tinggal” (reside) and “tingkap” (window) as asking the question: “Did Chinese denizens like her really see Malaya as their motherland or was it merely a window of opportunity for them?” Ultimately, Cheong views the performance as presenting a downbeat perspective on race relations, which “is not the whole picture of Singapore society.”

     

    http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/a-class-to-unite-a-nation

  • 2016 post-show discussion

    Transcript of post-show discussion on 23 January 2016 with Paul Rae, Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Tan Wan Sze.

  • 2011 Essay: ‘IN TONGUES: TRANSLATION, EMBODIMENT, PERFORMANCE’

    In Tongues: Translation, Embodiment, Performance

     

    Paul Rae

     

    From: Translation in Asia: Theories, Practices, Histories, Edited by Jan Van Der Putten and Ronit Ricci (Manchester: St Jerome Publishing, 2011), pp. 153 – 166.

     

    Abstract

    If we understand ‘translation’ in its expansive, rather than narrowly linguistic, sense, then all performance making entails a process of translation and all translation has a performative dimension. However, the interest of many Euro-American ‘intercultural’ theatre makers in the performance forms of the Asian region, while offering great potential for a vital ‘theatre of translation’, has arguably led to a downplaying of linguistic complexity on stage, in favour of a mode of gestural transfer that is, ironically informed by a ‘source-target’ translation model. This chapter recounts an instance of theatre-making in the cosmopolitan city-state of Singapore, where translation was not only a theme, but the means by which the performance unfolded. In so doing, the writer argues that the theatre can provide a privileged site for the reinvigoration of translation as a situated, relational practice, which emerges out of an embodied encounter with the world and with other people.

    Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES OPINION PIECE

    Clarissa Oon, ‘The Art of Identity’, Straits Times, 11 September 2008, p. A26.

     

    Oon’s column argues that Singapore identity is not well-served only by “knee-jerk reactions to the news of the day”, and that “[w]e need to pay attention also to the conversations that take place in academia, literature, theatre and film.” She provides numerous examples, including Drift by Drama Box and Shanghai’s Dramatic Arts Centre, and Eclipse by The Necessary Stage. She argues that “Singapore theatre has always been ahead of its time” as a site for exploring, and contesting, identity. She writes:

     

    “The theatre was where one went to in the pre-Internet days to hear socio-political critiques. And today, theatre continues to examine in nuanced ways difficult issues such as race relations.

     

    Restaged earlier this year, Spell#7’s critically acclaimed 2006 production National Language Class comes to mind…”

     

    Oon describes how the play harks back “to the idealism and the tensions of the 1950s”, and “showed the audience that we are still grappling with some of the same issues.”

     

    A number of films are then briefly referenced. Oon concludes by asserting that intellectuals and artists offer an alternative to banal one-liners, “for they dig deeper into our histories and our imaginations,” revealing that identity “is more complicated than we think.”

  • 2008 Flying Inkpot Review

     

     

     

    Copyright The Flying Inkpot. Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 Kakiseni Review

     

     

     

    Copyright Rowland&Daneels. Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES REVIEW

    Tara Tan, ‘Lost in translation’, Straits Times, 7 April 2008, Life!, p. 5.

     

    Tan describes the opening of the play and states that “it was immediately apparent that the audience had entered a game of inclusion and exclusion.” The early interactions based on the questions on the blackboard are described as “[a] simple but effective stroke”, leading to “a tender and sombre procedure.” However, Tan felt that “the piece disintegrated into a confusing stalemate”, and that the English-language scene was “littered with obscure references.” Tan found Yeo’s sweeping of the mats with a sapu lidi (which she calls a ‘duster’) “mesmerising to watch”, but concludes that “the piece came off as wanting to say too much with too little.”

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES PREVIEW

    Adeline Chia, ‘A lesson in history’, Straits Times, 31 March 2008, p. 6 (Life! Section).

     

    Chia previews the 2008 production, describing it as “an elliptical play that is lean on dialogue, but zooms in on issues of race, language, power and how people relate to each other.”

  • 2006 STRAITS TIMES OPINION PIECE

    Ong Soh Chin, ‘Who are you? Where do you live’, Straits Times, 19 August 2006, p. S10.

     

    Ong uses the experience of watching National Language Class as an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between language and national and ethnic identity. She begins by noting that there is some uncertainty amongst Singaporeans about what their national language is and that “[i]t is this uniquely Singapore confusion that made National Language Class…so poignant.” She explains the performance and its relation to Chua Mia Tee’s painting. Recollecting her own experience of learning Malay at school, she notes that younger, Chinese, audience members had no knowledge of the language, and needed actor Yeo Yann Yann’s assistance to follow the performance through to its “uneasy truce” between the characters at the end. “To me”, she writes, “both play and painting show that we have come so far in our journey as a nation that we have forgotten where we came from.”

     

    Ong goes on to consider the questions that appear on the blackboard in the painting – Siapa nama kamu? Di-mana awak tinggal? She recounts being asked in Mandarin by Yeo whether she can speak guo yu [national language], and writes:

     

    “As an ethnic Chinese, you could say that linguistically my “guo” is China. But in every other aspect of my being, it is not. I am Singaporean.

     

    But my national language is one which I do not speak well.”

     

    Ong closes by noting that this is common amongst Singaporeans, and recognises that while the questions on the blackboard seem rudimentary, they are addressed to questions of identity.

     

    Note 1: The article is accompanied by a box containing ‘Facts’, including what the four official languages of Singapore are; that Malay is the national language; and that ‘Majulah Singapura’ (the title of the national anthem) means ‘Forward Singapore.’

     

    Note 2: The first chapter of Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Singapore in the Malay World: Building and Breaching Regional Bridges (Routledge, 2009), is entitled ‘Singapura: Siapa nama kamu? Di-mana awak tinggal?, and cites Ong’s article twice in its opening pages. The cover of the book features Chua Mia Tee’s painting.

  • 2006 Straits Times Review

    Clara Chow, ‘Fireworks in a Black Box’, Straits Times, 11 August 2006, Life!

     

    This review of the double bill of National Language Class and Ho Tzu Nyen’s Utama: Every Name in History is I begins by noting that it coincided with Singapore’s National Day (9 August), and asserts that “the two works were no less explosive than the National Day Parade’s pyrotechnics.” Chow describes National Language Class as “an innovative blend of language class, art tour, and two-man evocation of race relations.” She describes the atmosphere of the play as becoming “charged with resentment and resignation, resolving in a pathos-tinged truce.” The message, as she sees it, is that “creating countries, like learning a new language, involves a leap of faith. Both involve a shift in mindset and establishing a new understanding with others.”

  • 2006 The Substation magazine Review

     

     

     

    Reproduced with permission.

  • additional resources

    Review of National Language Class on the Centre42 website (2016)

     

    read more

     

    'From Studio to Museum: A Painting’s Journey' by Mayo Martin in Today, 23 November 2015

     

    read more

     

    'From studio to National Gallery Singapore' – video interview with Chua Mia Tee (2015)

     

    watch

     

    'Making Multi-lingual Theatre: The Strange Case of National Language Class' by Paul Rae, History and Its Currency Talk Series, NUS Museum (2014)

     

    watch

     

    'Interpreting National Language Class' by Daniel Goh in e-journal, S/pores (2007)

     

    read more

  • 2016 Straits Times Review

    Cheong Suk Wai, ‘A Class to Unite the Nation’, Straits Times, Life!, 25 January 2016

     

    The first half of the review summarises the historical and cultural contexts of the performance by telling the story of Chua Mia Tee’s painting. The second half includes a range of interpretations and evaluations. Cheong praises the writing (“very clever indeed”) and pacing (“the minutes zipped by”), though while she appreciates Effendy’s “assured, oft-tender performance embodying his community’s readiness to help others” and Tan’s “fresh-faced earnestness”, she notes that the former lacked “bile”, and the latter, “guile.” Cheong interprets the Student’s repeated confusion of “tinggal” (reside) and “tingkap” (window) as asking the question: “Did Chinese denizens like her really see Malaya as their motherland or was it merely a window of opportunity for them?” Ultimately, Cheong views the performance as presenting a downbeat perspective on race relations, which “is not the whole picture of Singapore society.”

     

    http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/a-class-to-unite-a-nation

  • 2016 post-show discussion

    Transcript of post-show discussion on 23 January 2016 with Paul Rae, Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Tan Wan Sze.

  • 2011 Essay: ‘IN TONGUES: TRANSLATION, EMBODIMENT, PERFORMANCE’

    In Tongues: Translation, Embodiment, Performance

     

    Paul Rae

     

    From: Translation in Asia: Theories, Practices, Histories, Edited by Jan Van Der Putten and Ronit Ricci (Manchester: St Jerome Publishing, 2011), pp. 153 – 166.

     

    Abstract

    If we understand ‘translation’ in its expansive, rather than narrowly linguistic, sense, then all performance making entails a process of translation and all translation has a performative dimension. However, the interest of many Euro-American ‘intercultural’ theatre makers in the performance forms of the Asian region, while offering great potential for a vital ‘theatre of translation’, has arguably led to a downplaying of linguistic complexity on stage, in favour of a mode of gestural transfer that is, ironically informed by a ‘source-target’ translation model. This chapter recounts an instance of theatre-making in the cosmopolitan city-state of Singapore, where translation was not only a theme, but the means by which the performance unfolded. In so doing, the writer argues that the theatre can provide a privileged site for the reinvigoration of translation as a situated, relational practice, which emerges out of an embodied encounter with the world and with other people.

    Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES OPINION PIECe

    Clarissa Oon, ‘The Art of Identity’, Straits Times, 11 September 2008, p. A26.

     

    Oon’s column argues that Singapore identity is not well-served only by “knee-jerk reactions to the news of the day”, and that “[w]e need to pay attention also to the conversations that take place in academia, literature, theatre and film.” She provides numerous examples, including Drift by Drama Box and Shanghai’s Dramatic Arts Centre, and Eclipse by The Necessary Stage. She argues that “Singapore theatre has always been ahead of its time” as a site for exploring, and contesting, identity. She writes:

     

    “The theatre was where one went to in the pre-Internet days to hear socio-political critiques. And today, theatre continues to examine in nuanced ways difficult issues such as race relations.

     

    Restaged earlier this year, Spell#7’s critically acclaimed 2006 production National Language Class comes to mind…”

     

    Oon describes how the play harks back “to the idealism and the tensions of the 1950s”, and “showed the audience that we are still grappling with some of the same issues.”

     

    A number of films are then briefly referenced. Oon concludes by asserting that intellectuals and artists offer an alternative to banal one-liners, “for they dig deeper into our histories and our imaginations,” revealing that identity “is more complicated than we think.”

  • 2008 Flying Inkpot Review

     

     

     

    Copyright The Flying Inkpot. Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 Kakiseni Review

    Copyright Rowland&Daneels. Reproduced with permission.

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES REVIEW

    Tara Tan, ‘Lost in translation’, Straits Times, 7 April 2008, Life!, p. 5.

     

    Tan describes the opening of the play and states that “it was immediately apparent that the audience had entered a game of inclusion and exclusion.” The early interactions based on the questions on the blackboard are described as “[a] simple but effective stroke”, leading to “a tender and sombre procedure.” However, Tan felt that “the piece disintegrated into a confusing stalemate”, and that the English-language scene was “littered with obscure references.” Tan found Yeo’s sweeping of the mats with a sapu lidi (which she calls a ‘duster’) “mesmerising to watch”, but concludes that “the piece came off as wanting to say too much with too little.”

  • 2008 STRAITS TIMES PREVIEW

    Adeline Chia, ‘A lesson in history’, Straits Times, 31 March 2008, p. 6 (Life! Section).

     

    Chia previews the 2008 production, describing it as “an elliptical play that is lean on dialogue, but zooms in on issues of race, language, power and how people relate to each other.”

  • 2006 STRAITS TIMES OPINION PIECE

    Ong Soh Chin, ‘Who are you? Where do you live’, Straits Times, 19 August 2006, p. S10.

     

    Ong uses the experience of watching National Language Class as an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between language and national and ethnic identity. She begins by noting that there is some uncertainty amongst Singaporeans about what their national language is and that “[i]t is this uniquely Singapore confusion that made National Language Class…so poignant.” She explains the performance and its relation to Chua Mia Tee’s painting. Recollecting her own experience of learning Malay at school, she notes that younger, Chinese, audience members had no knowledge of the language, and needed actor Yeo Yann Yann’s assistance to follow the performance through to its “uneasy truce” between the characters at the end. “To me”, she writes, “both play and painting show that we have come so far in our journey as a nation that we have forgotten where we came from.”

     

    Ong goes on to consider the questions that appear on the blackboard in the painting – Siapa nama kamu? Di-mana awak tinggal? She recounts being asked in Mandarin by Yeo whether she can speak guo yu [national language], and writes:

     

    “As an ethnic Chinese, you could say that linguistically my “guo” is China. But in every other aspect of my being, it is not. I am Singaporean.

     

    But my national language is one which I do not speak well.”

     

    Ong closes by noting that this is common amongst Singaporeans, and recognises that while the questions on the blackboard seem rudimentary, they are addressed to questions of identity.

     

    Note 1: The article is accompanied by a box containing ‘Facts’, including what the four official languages of Singapore are; that Malay is the national language; and that ‘Majulah Singapura’ (the title of the national anthem) means ‘Forward Singapore.’

     

    Note 2: The first chapter of Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Singapore in the Malay World: Building and Breaching Regional Bridges (Routledge, 2009), is entitled ‘Singapura: Siapa nama kamu? Di-mana awak tinggal?, and cites Ong’s article twice in its opening pages. The cover of the book features Chua Mia Tee’s painting.

  • 2006 Straits Times Review

    Clara Chow, ‘Fireworks in a Black Box’, Straits Times, 11 August 2006, Life!

     

    This review of the double bill of National Language Class and Ho Tzu Nyen’s Utama: Every Name in History is I begins by noting that it coincided with Singapore’s National Day (9 August), and asserts that “the two works were no less explosive than the National Day Parade’s pyrotechnics.” Chow describes National Language Class as “an innovative blend of language class, art tour, and two-man evocation of race relations.” She describes the atmosphere of the play as becoming “charged with resentment and resignation, resolving in a pathos-tinged truce.” The message, as she sees it, is that “creating countries, like learning a new language, involves a leap of faith. Both involve a shift in mindset and establishing a new understanding with others.”

  • 2006 The Substation magazine Review

    Reproduced with permission.

  • additional resources

    Review of National Language Class on the Centre42 website (2016)

     

    read more

     

    'From Studio to Museum: A Painting’s Journey' by Mayo Martin in Today, 23 November 2015

     

    read more

     

    'From studio to National Gallery Singapore' – video interview with Chua Mia Tee (2015)

     

    watch

     

    'Making Multi-lingual Theatre: The Strange Case of National Language Class' by Paul Rae, History and Its Currency Talk Series, NUS Museum (2014)

     

    watch

     

    'Interpreting National Language Class' by Daniel Goh in e-journal, S/pores (2007)

     

    read more