By Victoria Chen, edited by Teo Dawn
In Press Gang’s program booklet, director Ivan Heng writes in his message, “There will come a time when each of us will be called to do the right thing. And our answer will define who we are.” Clearly the message of the play, this quote is echoed by several characters throughout and mirrors society’s concern regarding current affairs in Singapore and the world.
Audiences enter LASALLE’s Singapore Airlines Theatre to a stage with a large backdrop that resembles a broadsheet newspaper with its name, ‘Singapore Times’. A tall stack of newspapers looms off centre like a pillar. No pun intended, but it is apparent that the stakes will be high. While there are multiple literal settings like an office, cafe or meeting room that come and go throughout the show, set designer Chris Chua also delivers something unexpected in its final moments.
Written by acclaimed playwright Tan Tarn How, the story is indeed sharp and revealing. The power struggle is evident between two deputy directors (Shane Mardjuki and Oniatta Effendi) as they work together on an assignment while vying for the Editor-in-Chief’s position. Associate Editor Tan Tong Soon’s (Rei Poh) position is a mystery throughout the show. The chemistry deepens between reporter Chua Kin Jek (Benjamin Chow) and journalist Kerin Khoo (Amanda Tee). Matters get complicated when Bhavan Muthu (T. Sasitharan) leaks information to rival writer Mariam Wong (Yap Yi Kai).
In spite of the tense circumstances that the characters find themselves in, there are moments of comedy that counter the otherwise hefty plot. The actors frequently receive appreciative laughter from the audience as they talk about censorship, nepotism, and most especially in describing Kerin Khoo, who happens to be a tongue-in-cheek representation of a certain figure in Singapore journalism.
Intelligent and cheeky metaphors underscore conversations amongst colleagues and friends, but the hardest hitting lines of the show may well belong to Aminah Sulaiman (Effendi) when she states matter-of-factly, “anyone can be President, because the President has no power”. Donning a tudung, Effendi superbly portrays a woman weighing the risk of staying true to her values while maintaining her leadership.
Perhaps multimedia elements, designed by Khoo Chia Meng and Andrew Ng, could be more purposefully utilised to enhance the plot’s progression. They are currently projected during blackout scene transitions that slow down the momentum of the show. This somewhat diminishes the sense of urgency and high stakes that one would find in a pressure-cooker environment like a newsroom, let alone one in crisis.
Press Gang is a play that boldly comments on the conditions and consequences of sharing inconvenient truths in a not-so-free press. Without a doubt, its themes are close to home and urge audiences to consider the price one has to pay for their choices.
The Singapore Theatre Festival is on until 22nd July. Check out the festival guide here.
Photography credits: Albert Lim K S