A play and its actors stand the test of time
The lead actors of Off Centre, Sakinah Dollah and Abdulattif Abdullah in 1993 (left) and 2019 (right) (Photos: The Necessary Stage)
You would’ve heard about the 10 Year Challenge, the social media trend that recently took the Internet by storm, with users posting photos of themselves from 10 years ago and now. Staying ahead of that curve is the upcoming production, Off Centre, by homegrown theatre company The Necessary Stage.
The seminal Singapore play by Haresh Sharma spotlights the friendship between Vinod, a junior college student with depression, and Saloma, a vocational institute graduate with schizophrenia. First presented in 1993 by The Necessary Stage, it is making a return, and with its original lead actors, Abdulattif Abdullah and Sakinah Dollah, reprising their roles as Vinod and Saloma respectively, after 26 years.
The play made waves when it premiered for its raw, heart-wrenching depiction of mental illness and its stigmatisation in society. More recently, it had the distinction of being the first Singapore play to be selected as a literature text for the GCE O- and N-level exams in 2007.
Its return to the literature syllabus last year spurred The Necessary Stage director Alvin Tan and playwright Sharma to restage it after more than 20 years
Tan says they wanted to allow students studying the text to be able to experience the work as it was intended – live and on stage. He adds: “It’s wonderful that we can reach out to a new generation.”
With the original lead actors reprising their roles in the restaging, audiences can look forward to more nuance and layers in the performance, says Tan. His observation is echoed by the actors, who were in their 20s when they first took on the roles, and who have since become husband and wife in real life.
Abdulattif says: “How we look at life, and our varied experiences, have shaped the way we look at the play and the characters we portray.”
Off Centre also remains pertinent because of the social stigma that remains attached to mental illness, says Sharma. He concedes, however, that it is not an easy illness for people to grasp, including family members of those affected, and the media.
Yet the play is not just about raising awareness of mental illness, it also functions, on a broader level, as a reminder to have compassion for people in society.
Sharma says: “The play is relevant because it touches on the human spirit. How well do we treat people around us, especially those who are less able than us?
“Off Centre, ultimately, is not just about having empathy, it is also a call to action.”
Details about Off Centre here.