The Hawker

by Aslam Shah
The Second Breakfast Company
Aliwal Arts Centre, Singapore

The latest outing by emerging arts group The Second Breakfast Company is Aslam Shah's The Hawker, a play first seen at the Asian Youth Theatre Festival 2018. It takes place in a fictitious hawker centre on the last day of its operations and boasts an interesting immersive staging where audience members are seated around real hawker tables littered with food. There's a nice visual and olfactory angle to anchor the mood.

Actors then join each table and interact with each other, with the audience thrown right into the action. This is repeated for each of the five substantive scenes and we hear snippets of the various conversations happening around the room. The young cast are largely competent in portraying a spectrum of characters from different walks of life – from a reunion between two army friends from different backgrounds to a foreign worker speaking to his mother back home and a cross-cultural romance between two stallholders.

Photo Credit: The Second Breakfast Theatre Company

Aslam's writing has an honesty to it but the script is let down by the hugely uneven quality of the text. An exchange between two teenage schoolgirls bristles with a fierce authenticity, touching on themes of family, class and inappropriate relationships. On the other hand, a scene featuring a man being served divorce papers by his stoic wife plods along uncomfortably, with one struggling to get anything out of the characters. Tan Hui Er's direction is also proves decidedly lacklustre, involving the cast carry out the same repetitive gestures which do not feel natural. 

While it's certainly interesting to be made privy to these intimate exchanges, the fact remains that unlike like verbatim piece One Metre Square: Voices from Sungei Road, The Hawker is not a play that is truly focused on the livelihood of these individuals or the loss of a cultural institution. These are generic conversations that could well happen anywhere in Singapore.

I discuss this production in further detail in this month's Arts Equator theatre podcast together with writer, editor and producer Kathy Rowland and theatre educator Matthew Lyon. 

The Crystalwords score: 2.5/5


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