By Lindsay Wong
The Theatre Practice (Practice)’s Four Horse Road is back in 2020 for its second run. From March 25th until April 19th, audiences will have the opportunity to go back in time and experience the 150-year history of Singapore’s iconic Waterloo Street through a unique promenade theatre production. In an exclusive interview, playwright Jonathan Lim, researcher Sim Xin Yi, and cast member Andrew James Mowatt discussed Four Horse Road in detail.
What’s changed since the previous production?
Four Horse Road was established in 2018 by Lim and artistic director Kuo Jian Hong and it dives into the fascinating history and geography of Waterloo Street. Through watching different perspectives presented in Four Horse Road, they are able to gain a better understanding of the various mysteries of the road. In certain stories, the production presents a fictionalised outcome for some of the curious incidents.
Four Horse Road gave Practice the opportunity to work with their neighbours Centre 42 and the Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore.
For its second run this year, around half of the story has changed, although the premise of having 11 scenes in total, ranging from around 10 to 20 minutes each, remains the same. Some entirely new scenes and characters have been added, while perspectives in other scenes have shifted. Each audience member will watch eight out of 11 scenes in one night.
Setting: Waterloo Street
Officially given its name in 1858, Waterloo Street is one of Singapore’s oldest streets and has layer upon layer of history nestled in its foundation. Even if you enter the show with no knowledge of Waterloo Street, you will realise that something has happened around every corner by the end.
Place and history are closely linked in the context of Four Horse Road, which comprises fictionalised stories inspired by true events. It will take you through multiple timelines, from 1870 until now. By retelling the stories of different communities present on Waterloo Street, the production is showcasing the voices that emerge in history, many of which had been oppressed and marginalised.
For example, before WWI, a Japanese enclave inhabited part of Middle Road because of its prostitutes, a community that we don’t often hear about. Waterloo Street has also been home to early Jewish settlers who constructed the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on the street. As Mowatt noted, the voices of history are still voices of the present.
While facts and history are disputable based on perspective and bias, the place itself remains fixed and unchanged. Lim explained that humankind, society, different cultures and races wrapped themselves around a space to give a place meaning.
Sources for Four Horse Road
To create the fictionalised stories for Four Horse Road, Sim used a range of historical sources in order to dig out the most appealing and interesting stories. Similarly, local urban myths and legends also serve as sources for Four Horse Road scenes.
Because Lim had grown up on Waterloo Street, he had many anecdotes to share, which were then interpreted into scenes, including stories that he had heard from family and friends. One of them was from his mother – as a schoolgirl, the fear of the Orang Minyak (a Malay ghost legend) was so great that her convent wrote for the students a prayer to protect themselves; this actual prayer was incorporated into the scene.
More well-known stories like the 1915 Sepoy Mutiny have also been adapted into scenes, but told from a different perspective that we usually don’t read about in history books.
The multiracial nature of Singapore means that different communities have mingled together and also come into conflict on multiple occasions, with many of them taking place on Waterloo Street. As such, scenes are acted out in a variety of languages and dialects (including the major Chinese dialects and even Japanese) many of which do not have surtitles. It will be up to the audience and the help of fellow audience members to interpret the situation.
Englishman Mowatt commented that being in such a linguistically and racially diverse environment added to the “authentic narrative” of Four Horse Road. The cast is also diverse, with several cast members hailing from Europe. They used different accents (even a Russian accent) as the production team was determined to give the audience a taste of what it felt like to live in Singapore in the past.
Scenes of Four Horse Road
When asked about the most surprising scenes, Sim and Lim discussed the bus hijacking scene. Archives revealed that in 1978, a man hijacked an SBS bus and crashed into a wall (no one was injured).
As the years go by, some of the scenes in Four Horse Road will organically grow and evolve. There’s always new stories being uncovered, which can be developed into scenes. However, Lim promised that the mysteries will get harder to solve with each subsequent batch.
You can watch Four Horse Road from March 25th until April 19th at The Theatre Practice. Tickets are priced at $68 each and available for purchase here or at Practice Tuckshop. Audience members will be split up into groups and guided throughout the production to witness different scenes, which will take place on locations up and down Waterloo Street.