Having missed this epic play commissioned for SIFA last year, I set aside time to watch Wi!d Rice's almost-five-hour 'HOTEL' staged again for the Singapore Theatre Festival. Directed by Ivan Heng and Glen Goei, they fleshed out Alfian Saat and Marcia Vanderstraaten's newly tightened script in a two-part (2.5hrs and 2hrs) play over two nights, spanning a century from 1915 to 2015.
Past and present meet in so many rich details in an old world grand hotel. Love, heartache, secret trysts, break-ups between Singaporeans and Malaysians back then in 1965, superstitions, ghosts, séances, families and complex relationships. The script didn't shy away from politics, racial and social issues in opening with the 1915 Sepoy rebellion (against the British colonial masters during WWI) and alluding it to the 2013 Little India riots. It moved on to comfort women in WWII, the pain of inter-racial relationships, Malay films, Bugis Street and transgender identities, the Muslim dialogue, and oh, maid abuse in the 19th century isn't too different from today's issues.
One hotel room, different designs of digital wallpaper in the background, different-sized beds, and a rich local history to draw parallels to individuals' lives and experiences. It's linguistically vibrant and well...diverse; the 11 sketches and the talented cast of 13 nailed it. Hard to pick a favorite story. I didn't even feel bored for a second or thought that the loooong play was laggy. I enjoyed the two parts so much that I didn't even mind the corny singing and dancing, and the giant penises.
So clearly, we aren't just talking about 'HOTEL' as a hotel per se, or a room. Isn't it really Singapore with all our idiosyncrasies, prejudices and fears? We haven't changed all that much. What a brilliant Singapore narrative.