War play lacks danger

War play lacks danger
Tan Shou Chen (left) and Seong Hui Xuan play siblings who make friends with a Japanese army lawyer during World War II.

Review: Theatre


Singapore Repertory Theatre

DBS Arts Centre/Last Saturday

Time has smoothed over some of the deepest fractures left by the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. The sort of curdling animosity that might have swallowed this play several decades ago is hardly present today.

But with every retelling of the war comes a certain emotional expectation of what a war ought to be. No one emerges from a war unscathed.

Composer and musician Dick Lee, known for his irresistible musicals, takes a turn for the serious with the stripped-down Rising Son, the first in a family trilogy and based loosely on his father's unusual World War II experiences.

The elder Lee struck up a friendship with a Japanese soldier who moved in next door, resulting eventually in a sort of nostalgia for a period that was, for so many others, a time of great suffering and pain.

At the heart of this very safe, cautious reimagining of one family's wartime past is a fascinating psychological subversion of oppressor and oppressed that could have yielded strange and wonderful fruit.

This curious dynamic, however, is mostly danced around and hinted at; we hardly ever fear for the lives of the well-to-do Sunny Lee (Tan Shou Chen) and his younger sister Ruby (Seong Hui Xuan), who seem to coast through the war unharmed.

The two teenagers encounter Japanese army lawyer Hiroyuki Sato (Caleb Goh) within the confines of a strict story arc that plods from year to year, until the war's inevitable end.

There are attempts to navigate the complexity of Sunny and Ruby's friendship with Sato, but their arguments often revolve around tried-and-tested topics - that he might kill them at any moment, that he should be avoided because he might be dangerous - painting their connection in black and white rather than testing the push and pull of an initially utilitarian relationship creaking under the agony of exposure.

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