Glen Goei On Using Humour To Make A Point in Politically Incorrect “Cook A Pot of Curry”

While the curry fiasco involving a Chinese family telling their local Indian neighbours not to cook curry because of the smell resulted in a nation-wide uproar, I wondered why the play in response only happened two years later. If you guessed that the play was a portrayal of the squabbles between the said Chinese and Indian families, you’re….. 5% correct.

Cook a Pot of Curry is part of three works by award-winning Resident Playwright, Alfian Sa’at presented by W!LD RICE. Featuring a stellar cast of veteran theatre artistes – Neo Swee Lin, Rishi Budhrani, Nelson Chia, Noorlinah Mohamed, Najib Soiman and Judee Tan – who do everything from dancing to singing and portraying various characters and personas, you could say that the play is spicy and tantalizing like its namesake.

By the end of the 2-hour play, I was extremely surprised that the play had actually passed censorship (a quick check showed that MDA gave its stamp of approval) and was actually allowed to run in our less-than-liberal media and entertainment scene. But it is actually this reason why it was so refreshing. It was sharp, witty, even harsh at some points, and poignant at others.

The curry reference opens the show and lasts for about 15 minutes. Subsequently, the artistes portray individuals that they interviewed in as original a personification as possible. Everyone from a yoga instructor, a mak-cik, a Chinese student who came to Singapore to study, a Filipino maid, a Suria director and many more provide their point of views on the changing face of Singapore’s society. Certain characters gave their government bashing perspectives with the other growing social concerns such as the 6.9million people proposal via the White Paper, Singapore’s constant falling birth rate, anti-foreigner sentiment etc.

Some of the standout personifications to look out for include Neo Swee Lin’s portrayal of Daisy Irani, who I learnt was actually from Bombay and now proudly called Singapore her home; Judee Tan’s yoga instructor character who gave a female perspective on the “Stop at Two” policy; Najib Soiman and Noorlinah Mohamed’s characters discussing the anti-foreigner sentiment at locals reduced to being the minority which begged the irony since the orang asli of yesteryear were the ones being reduced to the minority initially [“so who is the minority??“]; and while the audience might have been riled up by all this government bashing; other characters were introduced as “having done everything in Singapore” and “I’m grateful to feel so secure in Singapore to raise my 3 daughters” juxtaposed against a very heart-aching rendition of a Filipino maid’s perspective on coming to Singapore and having to leave her husband and children to be able to send money home.

One of the themes explored was Singapore being “addicted to exploiting and importing cheap labour” from while the Philippines and Bangladash are “addicted to exporting cheap labour” and therefore not having any incentive to reinvent their labour policies resulting in the ‘win-win’ situation between both countries but truly, the only losers are these domestic and construction workers who are unable to break away from the cycle of being paid as low as $1.50 per hour in the first world country we call home.

Cook a Pot of Curry is politically incorrect and that’s why we love it. It provides an in-your-face perspective of the middle class and the lower class Singapore at ground level and their gripes at government policies which we all know is usually stemmed at its origin before chances for a revolution or protest can happen. It is real, relevant and makes you reconsider the power (or lack thereof?) that you hold whether a foreigner, a PR, or a citizen of the beautiful country we call home. We speak with Glen Goei to find out more.

Popspoken: How did you get involved in the play Cook a Pot of Curry?  What inspired you?

Glen: I’ve been friends with Alfian for years now, but never had the opportunity to direct one of his plays. When W!LD RICE decided to stage a festival of Alfian’s work, I volunteered to direct Curry. The subject matter, of course, was one of the main reasons I was inspired to work on the production. Immigration and integration are some of the hottest topics in Singapore society at the moment. Alfian’s play is an electrifying, intelligent take on those issues.

Popspoken: What is your view on the influx of foreign immigrants in Singapore and which do you think is the issue we are concerned with?

Glen: Well, I think it’s better to be philosophical about it. There’s no point in getting belligerent or xenophobic about the influx of immigrants into Singapore – they’re here now, we have to figure out a way to get along. The issue we should really be concerned with is integration and assimilation. How well, if at all, are these immigrants adapting to life here?  How will Singapore’s national identity change to accommodate these new residents?

Popspoken: What did you think about locals rallying around one of the nation’s food to counter anti-foreigner sentiment? In relation, how would you have used curry to bring both locals and foreigners together?

Glen: I thought that was quite uniquely Singaporean! We are a food-obsessed nation, first and foremost, and it seemed especially fitting for everyone to get really passionate about someone’s right to cook a pot of curry. In terms of bringing locals and foreigners together, maybe W!LD RICE can host a kenduri and invite everyone to come and break bread together… at which point they would dip it in some delicious local curry!

Popspoken: Will audiences be expecting the play to be a funny one or laced with satire?

Glen: I don’t think it’s necessarily mutually exclusive – the play is definitely satirical, and will hopefully be a very funny one as well. In my opinion, humour is a great instrument for making a point. Audiences will recognise themselves onstage, I think, and one of the great joys of directing a satirical piece like Curry is making viewers laugh… and then realise that they’re actually laughing at themselves, at the society in which they live. 

Popspoken: What is the intended take away from the play for audiences?

Glen: The goal of every W!LD RICE production is to entertain our audiences, while making them think. Of course, we hope that people will laugh and enjoy themselves. But we also want them to leave the theatre with some new insights on the issue to mull over.

Catch Cook a Pot of Curry by W!LD RICE running from 3-20 July (you won’t regret it!)

MDA rating to be advised
Venue: The Singapore Airlines Theatre, LASALLE College of the Arts

TICKET PRICE via SISTIC (click here)

Tues – Thurs & Sun 8PM & Sat & Sun 3PM
Standard – S$55, S$45

Fri & Sat 8PM
Standard – S$60, S$50


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