Meet the Minister: Lim Kay Siu Plays Politics

In Public Enemy, Lim Kay Siu plays politician Peter Chee, who resolves to keep order when his brother threatens to tell the world about the toxic water supply in Singapore. Kay Siu chats with us about getting under the skin of a character who holds opinions that are very different from his own.

Tell us about your character, Peter Chee.

I play the Minister, Mr. Peter Chee – he’s the brother of Thomas Chee, the scientist. He’s very high up in the ministry, and he’s a typical authority figure in many ways. He thinks that he and the authorities are doing well for the country. He doesn’t want any troublemakers, and he wants to maintain the status quo. That’s where he’s coming from all the time. He has the whole country in his mind – he thinks big, on a big scale.

How would you characterise Peter’s relationship with his brother, Thomas – the Public Enemy of the play’s title?

Peter Chee is the older brother by five or six years. He’s the typical elder brother. He’s more responsible. He thinks his younger brother has a wonderful imagination, but also believes Thomas can get his head buried in science and is very naïve. He feels Thomas is a bit of a loose cannon and needs to be controlled.

To what extent do you identify with your character?

I personally have problems with authority and authority figures. I’m very mistrustful of people in power. I don’t particularly like people who wield power because, even from young, I’ve realised that it does something to them. It corrupts, and gives them a sense of entitlement – it makes them think they know better than others. That’s a human fallibility. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe that.

How do you go about playing your character, then, when his views are so diametrically opposed to your own?

It’s a real turnaround for me. But I grew up with people who think and feel the way Peter does. I come from an upper middle-class background, with people who agreed with authority figures. My father himself was a great admirer of Lee Kuan Yew, although he felt, late in his life, that – despite his brilliance and good intentions for Singapore – Lee Kuan Yew had gone the wrong way.

I can remember how my father was, and imagine what he was thinking. That helps me try and understand Peter’s mindset. It’s a mindset of fear – that things can just disappear overnight, and so we have to keep order.

How relevant have you found Public Enemy to be in modern-day Singapore?

Now, in Singapore and to me, the play is very real. Because it questions the whole basis of what democracy is. Are the majority right? Should we just do what the majority thinks? And if we do what the majority thinks, are they right in the end? The majority can turn into a lynch mob – as in the case of xenophobia.

The play presents a chilling look at politics and politicking too.

Absolutely. The authorities are now aware that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction about how they wield power and make decisions without consultation. That’s what this play is about too. When someone makes calls for the truth to be told, for everyone to be informed, the authorities often just say, ‘Leave it to us, otherwise we’ll spend all our time squabbling and we’ll get nothing done.’

I also have a problem with how the people in power make the decision that certain costs are worth it. These are costs to human beings, but they tend to look at people as statistics because of the big picture. For the sake of expedience, people are deemed a necessary cost. These politicians forget the most important thing: they’re there to serve [and protect] the humanity of the people.

If you had to walk in Thomas Chee’s shoes, what would you do?

am Thomas Chee in many ways! I get very angry at a lot of injustices. I can be rather naïve about that. I’m very emotional and, sometimes, my emotions get the better of me and I lose calmness and logic. I even did biochemistry as a degree, so I know how your head can get buried in all the science. If I were Thomas Chee, I suppose I would do what he did. To me, Singapore needs more people like Thomas who will stand up for the rights of humanity, rather than champion wealth and prosperity and thereby cause all sorts of inequality. I don’t believe in that at all.

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