The Finger Players: The Political Nature of Art

With the shifting of power in international politics and underlying issues finally surfacing, it is no surprise that the 2018 season of theatre company The Finger Players is charged with challenging the status quo.

Citizen Dog is an absurd tale inspired by Chinese literary text Liaozhai zhiyi. It reflects real world problems within its surreal dreamscape – questioning desires and showing it in all its glory. Framed, By Adolf is a follow-up to Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde – it dives into the truth about falsehoods, injustice and historical whitewashing through the possible sale of a painting done by Adolf Hitler himself.

Popspoken interviews the scriptwriters of both shows Chong Tze Chien, Oliver Chong and Liu Xiaoyi to pick their brains on the relationship between politics and art. And to find out why they decided to present these works back-to-back.

the finger players Citizen Dog 1

Popspoken: Does art influence politics, or does politics influence art?

Tze Chien: The relationship between the two (politics and art) can be best described as a marriage fraught with tension. Art is always in a constant dialogue with the politics of the day, while the latter is a reluctant but domineering respondent who dictates the terms. Politics is about maintaining the status quo; Art seeks to question it, and if necessary, destroy it. But it is in this clash between this odd couple that gives birth to the notion of truth, offering stories and lessons that resonate across time and history. Perhaps in this light, their symbiotic relationship is one that is necessary and inevitable. 

Oliver: ART – inspires – PEOPLE – steers – POLITICS – informs – ART –

PS: Is desire always a bad thing?

Oliver: Good or bad, we all have desires. Is our existence a bad thing?

Xiaoyi: It’s desire that drives our actions and our surviving. Perhaps, we are not complete without desire. On the other hand, it’s desire that brings us pain and fear. It forms the tragedies of our existence. Desire is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Desire is a part of this world. It’s part of human being.

PS: Why Liaozhai/Hitler?

Tze Chien: I have always been fascinated with Hitler as a character and phenomenon. My interest got piqued further when I found out that he was a failed artist who publicly lamented that he would rather paint than to be a politician. When his power was secured, he commissioned artworks, museums and theatres, and ensured that there was endless stream of arts events, even when the allied forces had reached the borders. His goal was to turn Berlin and Germany into an artistic state, a beacon of the arts for the world. In his case, politics and art seem to make a Happy marriage. But on closer examination his idea of art was also closely linked to and informed by his politics and this is when art is defanged and rendered as propaganda. This collusion of art with politics spurred me to write the plays on Hitler and the holocaust.

Oliver: At different stages of my life, my interpretation of Liaozhai changes. From a good scare when I was a kid, to a critique on society in my teens, to an empathy for the human conditions and our primary afflictions that are greed, anger and ignorance now. I have been waiting for this chance to write an interpretation of it for the stage for years. It seems the time is ripe now as I have gathered enough age. This incredible collection of almost five hundred stories written more than three hundred years ago is still so relevant. I am so confident that it will remain relevant for three hundred years more that I wish I could write an update of my interpretation of it 10 years from now.

Xiaoyi: Just like any other cities, under a seemingly ordinary surface, Singapore is full of absurdity and nihility of human life. The main characters of Liaozhai are foxes, ghosts, immortals and demons, while the stories are focused on everyday life. This contradiction created great dramatic tension. Through borrowing this tension, we attempt to describe and explore the misery of life, and hopefully seek for the possibility of solutions.

Visual ArtistVisual Artist

PS: In today’s climate of political turmoil and uncertainty, what do you think art can do?

Tze Chien: “Framed” sheds light on the duplicity of art in today’s climate of fake news and convenient truths. In the play, a seller seeks to sell a Hitler painting and the story behind it to vindicate her Grandfather, a Jew who was tried as a nazi for owning this Hitler painting in the war tribunal. The story of the play unfolds as a psychological thriller to unravel the “truth” behind the painting (and the Grandfather’s real identity). 

There is a greater “truth” to be found in theatre because it presents multiple opposing views, rather than a skewed one. 

Art reveals more about ourselves and our realities today because it doesn’t pretend that the answers we need are simple and literal. 

Theatre is this very medium that questions the clashing “truths” between characters, and the audience is privy to a bigger picture that emerges from the contradictions and conflicts.

The sum of all these experiences lived vicariously through the characters on stage helps audiences arrive at a greater truth for themselves. 

Therein lies the value of art; it doesn’t prescribe; it speaks to your heart and mind to arrive at an answer that is complex and multifaceted, and you recognise it. 

Lies and fake news are self-serving and prescriptive. Art is the opposite of that. 

The world is complex; so are the answers to life, and art reflects that. 

“Framed” is built on that assumption.

Oliver: In the art mirror, we see our virtues and vices reflected back to us in their true shape: that is the art’s moral function. The art i believe in, does not propagate because artists are not politicians or activists. Art questions and inspires people to ruminate. We, the people, can then decide to steer politics towards more or less turmoil and uncertainty, for humanity to progress or regress, which in turn informs art. For me, humanity can only progress and the world becomes a better place when we can understand the importance of art. Through art we learn to appreciate the finer things in life, to have compassion, to realize that material is not our only or most important need. 

the finger players citizen dogthe finger players framed by Adolf

大狗民 Citizen Dog

Date: 8th – 10th June 2018

Venue: Victoria Theatre

Time: Friday & Saturday, 8pm / Saturday & Sunday, 3pm

Admission: From $35 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)

*Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content and Coarse Language) 

Framed, By Adolf

Date: 15th – 17th June 2018

Venue: Victoria Theatre

Time: Friday & Saturday, 8pm / Saturday & Sunday, 3pm

Admission: From $35 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)

*Advisory 16 (Mature Content and Some Coarse Language)


Stay updated and social with Popspoken: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Explore latest trends in contemporary culture


Explore latest trends in contemporary culture