If you like theatre and history, Four Horse Road (四马路) by The Theatre Practice (TPP), Singapore’s longest-standing theatre company, will be an absolute delight to catch. I was there on the opening night and I enjoyed the performance very much.
The interactive theatrical performance is conceptualised by TTP’s Artistic Director Kuo Jian Hong and playwright Jonathan Lim and will be running from 4 to 28 April across three heritage buildings on Waterloo Street.
The 2-hour immersive theatre piece features stories inspired by real events from past and present, going as far back as 1870s to take you through time, exploring Singapore’s rich multicultural heritage and history.
“Waterloo Street is a living container of so many human stories of old Singapore,” share Kuo, also the director of Four Horse Road. “Upon encountering them, I am interested in seeing what happens when we use our eyes of the present to look at our past.”
Four Horse Road – a literal translation of Waterloo Street’s commonly known Chinese name “四马路” (Fourth Road), imagines the life of fictional denizens that once lived, studied and worked on the street, from Jewish families to Catholic nuns and priest, prisoners to school boys and girls, bringing alive various forgotten landmarks, including Nantina House and the Bras Basah Gaol where Singapore Management University now stands.
“While the audience experiences a time warp (during the show), I hope that they will also be acutely aware of the street’s sharp contrast to the now,” Kuo continued.
Lim has made it a point to introduce to audiences the Waterloo Street that he discovered during research and how he remembered it during his days as a St. Joseph Institute student, which he recalls to be much more than just the Chinese temple.
“We tried to look at the street’s stereotype from completely different angles,” shared Lim, “so you will see history in a larger context and from a surprising perspective that will make you think twice of what you thought you knew.”
When I arrived at the venue, show attendees were required to deposit all our personal belongings into free lockers. Valuables are to be kept in a coloured pouch which was loaned to everyone upon presentation of our ticket stubs.
The pouches given out were of a different colour and there’s a reason for this – you will be going on a different theatrical trail, depending on which colour group you are assigned to. After each performance, there are also various opportunities for you to choose which performance you want to see next which means that you can come back and watch this same show for several times on different days and you will walk away with a different experience and takeaway.
The pouches are also locked with cable ties to prevent the audience from doing disruptive things like playing with your mobile phone or snapping pictures with them while on the theatre trail. This adds to the overall immersive experience whereby everyone is stripped bare of modern technology as we walk back into time to explore stories from different time periods in Singapore.
During the trail which I followed, I got to experience the following stories: a haunted Convent school; the Sepoy Mutiny; a Teochew man defacing a statue in a Catholic church; a confrontation scene in a nightclub by anti-Japanese resistance fighters during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, among others.
All photos by Tuckys Photography, Courtesy of The Theatre Practice
Singapore has a very rich multicultural and multiracial heritage and this was presented in full colours through the diverse little tales packed into this ambitious show – TTP’s biggest and possibly most intricate attempt to date. Four Horse Road literally walk audiences through multiple sites located across three buildings – Centre 42, Chinese Calligraphy Society and The Theatre Practice.
You will feel as if you are traveling in time as you move from scene to scene, interacting with the characters and being part of the stories. For those who get freaked out when I mention ‘immersive’ theatre because you are worried about getting forced to act on stage, rest assured that there are no such lame attempts – audience participation is mostly just limited to the role of a passive bystander and you won’t be required to dance around like a monkey to entertain others.
There is a lot of thoughtfulness for the full audience journey, as demonstrated by the details that has gone into the simple pouch, given to the audience at the beginning of the show. It’s the little details that reveal the extensive efforts that have gone into the full production. Each transition from one performance to the next are seamlessly weaved together and you find yourself absorbed deeper and deeper into the stories as you go on from one to another.
The show is performed in a mix of different languages including Mandarin, English, Malay and Japanese. There are no subtitles or translations as these will probably be disruptive to the natural storytelling flow, but you will still be able to enjoy the full experience all the same. After all, in real life, this would have been the same situation for languages.
A small tip – at the end of the show, be sure to collect the printed couple of the “Four Horse Road Times” to read the real-life backstory for each of the performances.
Four Horse Road is an easily accessible theatre show that can be enjoyed by all ages. There is nothing pretentious or overly artsy about the production. My only complain is that I may have to watch it a few more times in order to get to see every single of the performances!
Four Horse Road 《四马路》
Dates: 4 – 28 April 2018
Time: 7.30pm (Tue – Sun)
Venue: The Theatre Practice (54 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187953)
Language: Multilingual including Mandarin, English, Malay, Japanese, Dialects
Ticket Prices: S$68 (excluding SISTIC fees)
Duration: Approximately 2 hours