When we speak about Hitler, past tense would be the immediate grammatical tense we use. After all, he is a person from our history and no longer alive. Or is he?
The Finger Players, after their season of three shows earlier this year, is back with Chong Tze Chien‘s explosive play – Starring Hitler as Jekyll & Hyde. It is a retelling of history – of the Jewish Holocaust through the eyes of Jekyll, a painter by day and Hitler by night. Making its debut back in 2014, this play is back in Victoria Theatre from October 13 to 15, 2016.
Challenging the themes of fundamentalism and fanaticism in today’s world, Popspoken speaks to the stellar cast about their own experiences of the “Jekyll and Hyde” phenomenon.
Popspoken: From art to politics to anything under the sun, what is one incident or memory you have that encompasses “Jekyll and Hyde” today?
I was in the military band in secondary school. I remember being swept up and immersed in the system of extreme power distance and control. Our seniors were utterly strict with us, so we were very disciplined, especially in following instructions. Everyone was high strung as even the slightest mistake warranted severe punishment. Furthermore, our “all for one and one for all” culture meant that the entire group would be punished for an individual’s mistake. There was no room for error.
Looking back now, I recognise that some elements were cult-ish. But being a member then, I was so proud to be part of the band. It’s scary that when you’re in the group you can get lost in the “hive mind” and follow blindly just because that’s how the system was made to work. It’s scary now to see it happening all around me in the world.
I shifted schools at Primary 5. At that time we needed CCAs, so I joined rugby. The school was dominated by Malay kids and being an outsider stepping into their territory as a Chinese boy was a scarring experience. As a child, I was very aware of the unwritten ‘Chinese priority’. So when I suddenly became a minority, you would have all these glimpses of violence during rugby. The coach never saw it but because I was on the field, I felt it.
It’s odd when all you’ve ever felt was comfort and suddenly you’re the oppressed. I think that’s a very minuscule example when you look at the universality of Jekyll and Hyde, but the alienation and xenophobia was very stark in my childhood, and I think this just goes to show that it can happen in all scales, shapes and sizes. Even in our daily routines as we fail to notice it. From the Malay boy’s point of view, I can only imagine it was the adrenaline of an opportunity to hold and feel power.
The morning of the Brexit referendum result in the UK. Nigel Farage, a man who’d unapologetically campaigned for Britain’s exit from the European Union by posing in a front of poster image of brown-skinned refugees with the words “Breaking Point” emblazoned across it, announced Brexit as a victory for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people”. As if the the rest of the country aren’t real, ordinary or decent.
It’s the language of hate whichever way you add it up. The Right is on the rise again as evidenced in America right now. People are attracted by what they see as tough talk. But tough talk is just that. Talk. Simple sounding solutions to incredibly complex problems. The Right is on the rise again and it has been emboldened by Brexit.
The rise of Trump of course, Duerte, Brexit, the White Paper, Ketuanan Melayu, the turning away of the Rohingya boat people, anti-Muslim sentiment in modern Europe, nationalist fevour, the news is filled with terrifying incidents that encompass Starring Hitler, as Jekyll and Hyde. I’ll write about an incident that felt personal. In August 2009 a group of Malay protestors, dragged a severed and bloodied cow’s head through the streets of Shah Alam and dumped it at the gate of the then Chief Minister of the State. They were protesting the proposed relocation of a Hindu temple in an area that had recently become Muslim majority. It was upsetting. Videos of the incident showed grown men jeering, spitting and stamping on the head. I had to look away when a young boy joined in laughing as he kicked the bloodied head. There was an uproar. It led to a pig’s head being thrown into a mosque by persons unknown. Some said it was done by UMNO thugs to divert attention from the cow’s head incident. Things grew ugly. For the first time in my life in the upsetting aftermath of these incidents I considered leaving my country. But I didn’t. I stayed. We stay because a place is home no matter what the demagogues say and because we can’t let ourselves believe we can possibly be betrayed so badly. Hope is a dreadful thing.
Given the size and power of the Chinese minority in Malaysia the dominant Malay polity has given the Chinese community some inclusion and consideration in affairs of state and power. But the Hindu minority in Malaysia has long suffered the brunt of the government’s discriminatory laws. And often they remain silent as decades old temples – are bulldozed. In 2006 the 100 year old Mariamman Temple was demolished ostensibly because it violated building codes. It made the headlines and protests outside the Hindu community but only because it was a well known temple. In 2014 another severed cows head was thrown at the gate of a Hindu opposition MP for “insulting UMNO”.
Despite everything I stay on. A few years ago I bought a piece of art by the Malaysia artist Anurendra Jegadeva called Portrait of My Father as A Dead Cow. A severed cows head sits quietly on a tiled butcher block. It’s expression is one of great serenity. I bought it because I find it beautiful. It’s a reminder of love, sacrifice, ugliness, beauty, the mob, the individual, the sacred, the profane, politics and art.
“The Day Two Syrian Refugees Invited Me to Dinner” On my day off from walking the length of the Netherlands last year I decided to visit Fort Bourtange near the German border.
When I get off one bus to wait for another, a man and his young son get on to travel to Ter Apel (Netherlands Immigration and Naturalisation Center for refugees). While looking for the buses timing and information, the bus driver is explaining to an old man that he is worried about me, that the next bus won’t be coming for a while, that I’m going to the fort… Grandfather. I hear you are going to the fort. Let me drive you. It is near my place. I’ll just explain to my friends that we will be making a small detour. Me. Oh.. Ahh… Thank you.
I get into the a grandfathers small car, with me are his friends (a husband and wife (two Syrian Refugees) –
Me. Did you know the two people getting on to the bus?
Husband. Yes, they are family. My brother and his son. We are from Syria. They are going to Ter Apel.
Me. Oh. They are not staying with you?
Wife. No, they can’t, they have to be processed. (Silence)
Me. How did you travel here – to the Netherlands.
Husband. I came first, my wife followed when it was safe with our children. My brother the same; a boat, then 20 days and nights walking with his son on his back. (Silence. The weight.)
Me. How did you two meet? (The grandfather and the wife) Grandfather. I saw we had new neighbors. She was walking in the middle of the street, so I went up to shake her hand.
Wife. I invited him for tea. Grandfather. She invited me for tea. They have two beautiful children.
Wife. Grandfather also took us to the fort after we first met. (Silence. The weight of kindness.)
Me. What work do you do here?
Wife. We can’t work for three years. We survive by government handouts while we complete our Dutch studies, then after that we can work.
Husband. The children can speak better Dutch than us. Children they play with other children you know?
Wife. Why don’t you come to our place tonight, after you are done at the fort, I would like to cook you dinner. (The weight of kindness is unbearable.) We arrive at the fort. The all get out of the car to wish me good luck with my day. The Grandfather gives me a firm handshake. I shake the hand of the husband and wife and decline the dinner invitation, saying ‘Thank you, I will be too late getting back, etc’….
How to explain the weight, the weight that pushes down on your shoulders – not like the weight of a child on your back for 20 days – but of the kindness offered by strangers expecting nothing in return but your safety and your joy, and the guilt and inadequacy you feel because you have nothing to offer in a situation where money has no currency.
I wave them off as they drop me off at the Fort, and then I turn away and cry. I cry because the weight of kindness is unbearable.
Jekyll carries the weight of kindness, whereas Hyde carries fear. Fear is an easier pressure to offload, as it doesn’t carry the weight of empathy or responsibility with it.
Recently I got into an argument with a friend of mine. She was talking about her frustrations with foreign workers, ending her rant with a sharp phrase that we are all too familiar with; “go back to your own country!”. As a third culture, mixed race child, who essentially considers himself nation-less, I couldn’t accept this. So I lost my temper, telling her that I was an immigrant, I have always been an immigrant and if she couldn’t accept them she couldn’t accept me either. It was not till much later I realized she just felt uncomfortable with the way some of them would stare at her. There is always something beneath the surface of hate and discrimination, there are always two sides in this perpetual cycle of ‘us and them’.
There is a line in the play where Jekyll proclaims that “The answer is Art”. I believe that to be true because, to me, Art serves as a vehicle for spreading empathy. We need empathy, now more than ever, for I fear we are building more walls when we should be working to continue tearing them down.
I remember the first of January of the year when I was to turn 11, I somehow managed to “spoil” the TV. In the evening, when my father came home from work (he had to work on holidays back then, which didn’t help matters) I had a terrible thrashing.
He had a bad temper. He was a monster.
A few days later, he brought me out to watch a movie. He bought me presents.
He was the nicest man I know. He was an angel.
When America’s Presidential Nominee Donald Trump first proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country as a response to the growing threat of terrorism, the support given to him and this preposterous idea was beyond what I expected. What struck me the most about this incident was analysts saying that the support for Trump stems from fear, igniting sentiments of xenophobia and religious discrimination in the name of safety.
For more information on tickets and showtimes, click here.
Photography Credit: The Finger Players, The Straits Times