Finally, Square Moon hits the stage

A political play that had its reading at The Substation last year cancelled will now be staged next month.

Square Moon, by playwright Wong Souk Yee, one of 22 people detained in the 1987 Marxist conspiracy arrests, centres on detention without trial and it has been given an R(18) rating. The play is directed by Peter Sau and stars veteran actors Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin.

The Substation explained to Life! last year that the reading, organised by civil society group Function 8, was cancelled because it had been "advised on the content of the play".

Plans to stage the work at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival early this year also fell through.

Although the play was put on hold, Wong, 55, says she received a lot of encouragement from friends "and I thought there was no reason why I could not do it on my own".

The performance will be produced by her and Chng Suan Tze. They co-founded theatre company Third Stage in the 1980s, which is now defunct.

The play's debut marks Wong's return to the theatre scene after 26 years. Now a part-time English language lecturer at the National University of Singapore, she says: "It was with much trepidation that I set foot on the stage again.

"I don't feel I am an artist. I just think that I have quite an active imagination and... I have some stories to tell."

The impetus for her to write the play was the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari in 2008 from the Whitley Road Detention Centre. "Friends jokingly asked if I had attempted to 'dig any tunnel' during my time there," she says. She was arrested and detained at the centre from 1987 to 1988 under the Internal Security Act for participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the Government.

The incident led her to see the escape as "rich material for a political satire" and she felt her personal experience in political detention would "qualify me to construct characters and scenes". She began writing Square Moon in 2011 and finished it in a year.

The fictional work centres on the prison escape of an alleged terrorist, which leads to a cover-up by a fictional Homeland Security Department and the detention of the escapee's lawyer.

Director Sau, 37, who was roped in last June to direct the play, says the "unexpected time-out" is a "blessing in disguise". "We were given one more year of rethinking and rewriting, increasing the play's poignancy and dexterity."

The script's central message, he says, questions whether people can "not resort to power and control when negotiating with another".

"The resonance is beyond politics. It also says a lot about what is happening in our everyday work environments and even in our own homes," he adds.

Sau, who is also an actor and founded theatre collective Traditions and Editions Theatre Circus, has chosen to direct the play as a "modern day fable". He says audiences "will be ushered into a playground of naughty imagination" where "characters with different ideologies try to do what they believe is right", with their whims and follies serving to amuse.

On the play finally being staged, he says: "We hope Square Moon is a testament to this very healthy phenomenon - that our civic awareness is growing, our censorship body is maturing and our leadership is listening and responding."

As for Wong, she says: "It has been in gestation for two years, so, when it is all over, it will be like a cathartic delivery of a poor baby who has struggled to come out and see the world."

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