The final day of the Arts Mart

Sunday 10 June 2001 – Singapore

I took a tour of the new Esplanade Theatres on the Bay site, which is still under construction. A most impressive project, and they don’t seem to have cut any corners (I heard somewhere that the budget for the project is $600 million). The concert hall contains all of the high-tech acoustic panels, retractable drapes and a moveable reflector, that could not be afforded at Hobart’s Federation Concert Hall. However I still believe that FCH was a remarkable achievement for its modest budget and that the acoustics will be tuned and bettered with time.

Esplanade Theatres under construction
Esplanade Theatres under construction

There were only two showcases today (including an extract of ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’ performed by Singaporean actor Ivan Heng) around lunchtime, so the afternoon was free. Had lunch with George at an extraordinary establishment at Suntec City called Marche. It’s a sort of huge buffet, where you ‘assemble’ your meal by wandering around various counters selecting what you want, waiting for it to be cooked/prepared, having a card marked with the cost, and then finding your way back to your seat to eat your (by now cold) meal. It was quite expensive, no service (you pay at a ‘passport control’ type of gate counter on the way out, and I certainly hope it never catches on in Australia!

After getting home for a snooze, shower and change, I made my way back for the closing dinner. We were bussed out to an extraordinary colonial mansion on a hill not far from Singapore Harbour (Allkaff Mansion). It is now a very prestigious and expensive restaurant and reception centre. Very exotic, lovely and Somerset Maugham! The meal and the company were terrific. I spoke with Ivan Heng about the arts scene in Singapore and specifically about his performance. ‘Emily of Emerald Hill’, written in about 1984, holds a similar place in Singaporean Theatre to ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ in Australia, in that it celebrated the language and lives of ordinary people without being an imitation of British or American culture. In Ivan’s words, ‘It gave us permission to enjoy seeing ourselves on the stage’.

At dinner I was actually sat between Mee Liam Lim (the deputy director of Audience Development at the NAC), who I’ve seen at almost every event I’ve attended, and a couple of ladies from venues in Taipei. Also at the table was my namesake, Andrew Ross, Artistic Director of the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth. Andrew and I have been confused for each other at meetings for years, but this is the first time we’ve ever met. He’s a charming and interesting man, and it was great to meet him at last.

Finished the evening with George and a (very expensive!) jug of Carlsberg on Mohammed Sultan Road, supposedly Singapore’s happening nightspot strip, but actually very quiet on this Sunday evening.

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