Coronavirus: Singapore International Festival of Arts and War Horse cancelled

Coronavirus: Singapore International Festival of Arts and War Horse cancelled
A scene from The National Theatre's production of War Horse. War Horse, which was to have been staged at the Esplanade from April 24 to May 10, has been cancelled.
PHOTO: The National Theatre

SINGAPORE - The Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) and the blockbuster National Theatre’s War Horse are the latest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. The two biggest productions on Singapore’s upcoming cultural calendar have been cancelled.

The Arts House Limited (AHL), presenter of Sifa, which was to have been held from May 15 to 31, announced that the annual arts festival will go on hiatus in a press release on Monday (March 23). 

The West End hit, War Horse, which was to have been staged at the Esplanade from April 24 to May 10, has also been cancelled. Patrons who have bought tickets will be contacted about refunds. 

The cancellation will be a financial blow for the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), which is jointly presenting the show with the Esplanade. SRT's director Charlotte Nors, 53, said: "Having worked for seven years to bring National Theatre's War Horse to Singapore, it is heart-breaking that it cannot proceed. But the Esplanade and SRT fully support the safety measures put in place and place everyone's well-being as our number one priority."

The National Arts Council (NAC), which commissions Sifa, said in a statement: "As a significant number of Sifa programmes comprise international acts, the current border and travel restrictions have severely impacted festival planning. To ensure the safety and well-being of our audiences and performers, programmes would also need to be further adjusted to put in place safe distancing measures."

"Given the impact to the overall festival experience for audiences, NAC supports the decision of AHL and its festival director not to stage SIFA 2020."

While the main show has been cancelled, the NAC added it will support the four Singapore theatre companies which were due to premiere four new commissions at the festival.

The shows by Nine Years Theatre, The Finger Players, The Necessary Stage and Toy Factory Productions included partnerships with overseas theatre groups and performers who now cannot come to Singapore for rehearsals and performances.

But the NAC's statement added that the festival will continue with work with the groups for alternative ways to stage works, including webcasts, work-in-progress showings, as well as digital conversations.

Theatre groups are hopeful that the commissions will still see the light of day at some point.

TNS's general manager Melissa Lim, 43, said: "We are currently in discussions with Sifa to explore the possibilities for a staging at a later date."

Toy Factory's artistic director Goh Boon Teck, 49, whose ambitious three-year Under The Southern Bough trilogy was to have concluded at this year's festival, sees a silver lining: "Given this crisis, we will use this time that we have now to think deeper to strengthen our production. We will plan more workshops and continue our research for the production after June or July. We look forward to the actual staging in the near future."


Ms Sarah Martin, Arts House's chief executive officer, said in a statement: "While we are all disappointed by this decision to no longer hold the festival in May, the safety and well-being of our patrons, artists and staff will always be AHL's number one priority."

Two other shows have also been affected by Covid-19. Malay theatre group Teater Ekamatra's Berak has been cancelled and Dream Academy Productions' Vote Kumar is postponed.

Berak was to have opened on Wednesday (March 25). But Ekamatra's artistic director Fared and company director and general manager Shaza Ishak said in a Facebook post: "After careful deliberation and in consideration of the health and well-being of our audience, artists, and crew, we think this is the most responsible action we can take."

Patrons who have purchased tickets can opt for full refunds through Sistic, or donate the cost of their tickets to support the company.

Comedian Kumar's satire was to run at the Esplanade from April 8 to 18, but rescheduled to run between Oct 28 and Nov 7. Patrons who have bought tickets can retain them for the show's new dates.

The Singapore Book Council's flagship festival, the Asian Festival of Children's Content, has also been postponed from May 28 - 31 to Oct 3-4.   

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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