by Celine Ng (16A01A)
For Sale: One Chair Only was a collection of one chair plays (with one dialogue segment) put up under The Humanities Initiative (THI) as part of its efforts to raise awareness about Human Trafficking. Organised by Year 6 students of the Humanities Programme with support from Emancipasia and Hagar, its remarkable commitment both to the aesthetics of the piece as well as the worthy cause it advocated for were evident from start to finish. Notably, the performative pieces were followed with a presentation and question-and-answer segment by Dr Michael Hakim (executive director of Hagar) and Ms Ng Wei Chern (Head of Programmes for Hagar, head of the Trauma Recovery Programme for trafficking survivors in Singapore), a testament to the organisers’ efforts to educate as well as entertain.
The lights came up on a clean and minimalist set –a single stool set off against plain white flats –, starting the show with a monologue by Syafiqah Nabilah (15A01B). Beginning with a disquieting introduction to her character’s current plight, the monologue proceeded to bring us through a quick succession of events which showed off Syafiqah’s versatility. Disquietingly naive and innocent as she marvelled at the luxuries on her first flight, Syafiqah was also odiously manipulative as Susie (a cousin who convinces her character to ‘clean tables in Singapore’) and menacing as a Singaporean pimp. No wonder, then, that it was almost with a sense of bitter relief that the audience reached the end of her piece.
This was followed by a dialogue between a Singaporean employer of a construction company, played by Myko Balbuena (15A01B), and his exploited foreign worker, played by Sarthak Panwar (16S05A). At turns quietly taunting and explosively ferocious, Myko put up a strong performance matched by Sarthak who, crucially, was no pathetic victim to Myko’s tormentor. While predominantly fearful and uncertain, Sarthak’s performance was underlined with a strong sense of his character’s strength, courage and love for his family, rounding out the piece nicely.
Next up was a monologue by Rachel Koh (15A01A). Also exploited and pushed into prostitution, Rachel’s character was notably different from Sya’s on multiple points. Content-wise, it addressed the issue of her character’s struggle to re-adjust after having returned home and mounting sense of helplessness. This was reflected in the overall tone of the piece, which was significantly more concerned with the lasting psychological trauma she faced. Rachel’s performance was deeply compelling and elegantly controlled, lending voice both to the complexities of her character’s mental struggle as well as her raw anguish.
Finally, the performance closed with a monologue by Katrina Jacinto (15A13A) who played a domestic helper from the Philippines. Just as thought-provoking and heart-wrenching as the preceding pieces, this monologue was perhaps especially notable for its treatment of a subject many might perhaps never consider part of ‘human trafficking’. Indeed, the writers made a deliberate and respectable effort not to paint an exaggerated picture of the character’s plight; at the same time, the vulnerability of her situation was made clear to the audience, as was Katrina’s portrayal of the adverse effects it had on her character’s emotional well-being.
With a strong cast, dedicated organisers and talented directors, it is no wonder that For Sale: One Chair Only was a successful performance both in terms of production value as well as thematic depth. Crucially, it was not an easy performance to sit through and multiple audience members remarked that it was emotionally draining. Yet this was rightly so considering the nature of the subject matter as well as its presentation -with minimal characters and stark sets, the performers made it clear that there would be no relief offered from their characters’ stories. Overall, the production was commendable for its aesthetic value and maturity, as well as the sensitivity with which it explored larger issues through personal stories. In the words of producer Lee Yoonji (15A01B), “We see them not just as victims, but as people –with anguishes, desires and inhibitions –who have become reduced to nothing but expendable commodities. We laugh, cry and fear with them, and from this, turn our attention from individual tragedy to the global system that allows human trafficking to take place.” As a work of theatre, the performance was certainly worth it for its refined production value. As a work of advocacy, it was insightful in its treatment of the subject matter and certainly worthy of greater support.
For Sale: One Chair Plays will be having one more show on 3rd May at the Esplanade. Tickets can be purchased at tinyurl.com/onechairplays.
The EmancipAsia series is one that aims to raise awareness of human trafficking in Singapore, and call for reflections on the treatment on foreign workers in our nation. To read more articles from this series: click here.