Part of the original cast of Second Link, Lim Yu-Beng has uncovered new meanings and fresh insights in working on Another Country. He chats with us about his own profound ties to Malaysia and the notion that, for all our differences, we really are one and the same in the end.
Tell us about Another Country.
For me, it’s a continuation of a consciousness that I was developing for myself last year when I was working on 2 Houses, which is a play that I wrote, directed and staged in Penang. In writing for Malaysia, I inevitably found that I was actually writing about Singapore – that Penang and Singapore are alter egos of each other. When we look at another country, it’s very easy to pick out flaws and problems – it’s easier than looking at yourself. And yet, we are, in fact, looking at ourselves: we hold up a mirror to ourselves.
It goes to the core of what I think acting is. Whether you’re playing the hero or an axe murderer, one of the core tenets for me is that you have to admit that this could be you. You possess the potential to be this way. In the same way, when we tackle the Malaysian texts for Another Country, it challenges us to admit who we are, and who we can be.
You were in the original cast of Second Link ten years ago. What’s it been like coming back to some of the same texts and themes in Another Country?
It’s very strange to think that it was ten years ago! And yet, it’s remarkable how different some of it feels to us. Ten years is a long time. We have individually, as people, changed. Times have changed. To a certain degree, my worldview and consciousness have changed, and what I want to see from the world has changed. So, when I come back to some of the same texts for Another Country, I occasionally find myself thinking, ‘My golly, my mind must have been so small back then. How did I miss this element when I played it all those years ago?’.
What has it been like working with Ivan Heng on this show again, ten years down the road?
Ivan, too, has changed over the last ten years, I think. I would say that he’s one of the directors I feel most closely aligned with. I think he and I share many core beliefs when it comes to making theatre, which is one of the main reasons I continually come back to work with him. I feel that, ten years down the line, he’s actually become more confident in himself and the substance of his work – he feels less pressure to dress it all up, and is just more trusting and sure of the content of the piece. He knows that the substance of it is what will speak to audiences at the end of the day. That’s the style of direction I’m personally favouring these days, too.
In the spirit of Another Country, can you share with us a personal anecdote or experience related to Malaysia?
My family on my father’s side comes from Penang. I have a lot of relatives in KL and Penang. When I was doing research for 2 Houses, I spoke to relatives of his generation, as well as some of my Malay friends. They all say that, when they were very young, everybody played together, irrespective of race or culture. They did everything together. They’d camp together, they’d cut school together, they’d go hunting in the jungle together. Today, my friends and relatives in Malaysia say that, by and large, their children can’t do that. They’re absolutely willing to, but every act has become politicised. Mixing with one another is perceived in particular ways now – this person or this act is haram, for instance. Everyone I spoke to laments this loss. I feel sad about it as well.
It’s this idea of allowing our differences to overshadow what we have in common – a theme that recurs frequently in the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore.
Absolutely. What I love about Another Country is that it reminds us of our humanity and our commonalities. I think it celebrates plurality without watering down anybody’s individuality. It celebrates the idea that there can be oneness within plurality. To me, a common mistake in interpreting the word ‘one’ has always been to imagine that it’s singular and exclusive, as opposed to broad and inclusive. Rather than ‘My one! Your one!’, you can think of it as us all being one and the same. I think that’s quite beautiful.
After all, so many of the distinctions between people and places are man-made. I’m an avid biker, and sometimes when I’m riding my motorcycle from Singapore into Thailand through Malaysia, you can see how gradually the landscape and the faces change. It’s Man who draws these lines on the ground and says that this is one country, and that is another. We have to remember that the lines are there for convenience and for organisation – so that we can create tidy partitions and compartmentalise everything. But, if you look at an aerial photo, you just see tanah air – it’s the same ground, it’s the same Earth!