The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ
Thanks to the generous sponsorship by Harry Elias Partnership and the student discount, the law faculty was given an opportunity to buy heavily discounted tickets for this play and support a faculty member, Eleanor Wong. Yes, the Eleanor Wong, famous for her lesbian lawyer trilogy, who is practically a lesbian icon unto herself. Perhaps even more famous than Irene Ang, who still tells the media that she is just an unmarried single woman.
My entire LAWR class wanted to watch this play together, but the introduction of the heavily discounted tickets created a rift as half of them wished to study for the torts test, and the other half said “24 bucks! I am so in!”. I, being a cheap auntie who goes for discounts and sales, belonged to the latter group.
Directed by Ivan Heng, who is known for his recent work on Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol 3 [a play which I highly recommend despite the sometimes-brilliant-sometimes-didactic writing but solid direction], and acted by Pam Oei and Rodney Oliviero, the Campaign takes a satirical, almost under-handed stab at our treatment of one of the political icons of Singapore: Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam. Better known as…. JBJ. But indeed, the Campaign is not aiming to glorify Jeyaretnam, but “another” JBJ, founder of Wildlife Preservation.
The play traces the journey of Daniel Lee, an NUS student and president of Association of Students for Self-expression, who launches a campaign to honour the “other” JBJ. This brave attempts earns him slammed doors and disappointment, and rejection from even the object of his campaign. At the end of the first act, Daniel Lee dies through mysterious circumstances.
The second act deals with the resolution of his death, as the public believes the Government [better known as the “Gahmen”] had something to do with his death, in an attempt to silence him. Clara Tang, an intrepid civil servant is dispatched to mitigate this PR disaster, taking us into the heart of the civil service. It explores unspoken expectations and deep-rooted traditions, touches on the conflict between the old guard and the new, and flirts with the stifled lives of public servants.
As a whole, this play was amazingly hilarious. Wong, with her gift for words, crafts clever puns and amusing situations with great dexterity. But what was even more hilarious were the numerous veiled references, which, sad to say, a lot of us did not grasp. At least, the new generation did not, because I have it on the best authority that a couple of senior ladies behind us were bursting out in laughter at even the more obscure of puns and references. Most of us left the theatre in some amount of confusion, unsure of what a lot of it actually meant – which may or may not be a testament to the brilliance of Wong.
Pam Oei and Rodney live up to their reputations in presenting this multi-layered play. Literally, as they were changing in and out of costumes within seconds, bringing numerous characters to life. It was a joy to watch them in action, flawlessly trotting out mile-long lines with hardly a breather in between. [And of course, for all those Pam Oei-worshippers, it has to be a joy in seeing her semi-nude in one scene.]
My main complaint about the play will be its obscurity to most people, and some rather inexplicable scenes, especially the concluding scene. I also felt it dwelt on the melodrama of the love-deprived Clara Tang for too long, bringing down the overall fun tone of the play. This is a satire, let it be a satire – if I wanted to see romantic drama mixed in with professional issues, I would watch Grey’s Anatomy[which I do].
All in all, I would recommend this play if you were looking for a more or less light-hearted poke at the situation in Singapore.