Resisting “cultural amnesia” with Centre 42’s The Vault: Past Perfect at Black Box

Published on 18 October 2023
By Team Catch

The past is not always perfect, but it is worth remembering. After a successful debut at the

Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) in May 2023, non-profit arts group Centre 42 returns with the second run of The Vault: Past Perfect

Conceptualised by Robin Loon and Casey Lim, the performance will hear from three local theatre practitioners who were active in the 1990s: Oniatta Effendi, Serene Chen, and Nelson Chia. 

Through their personal reflections, they will cast a spotlight on the rich history of theatre-making during that period of growth and experimentation. The restaging of the production in October will not be a case of déjà vu—it will offer something new. 

Wide shot of Nelson Chia, Oniatta Effendi, and Serene Chen (left to right) onstage

Theatre practitioners Nelson Chia, Oniatta Effendi, and Serene Chen kicked off the performance with a reading of the 1997 play Galileo (I feel the earth move).

This time, it will include excerpts from three additional plays—such as Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral by the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun—all equally iconic and representative of the spirit of local theatre then.

Looking back on the past

For many, the 1990s saw artists actively experimenting to push the boundaries in search of a distinctive Singaporean identity, at a time when the government was getting more involved in managing and regulating the local art scene. 

This creative tension led to an invigorating arts scene in Singapore, recalled Robin and Casey, who formed tight-knit bonds and who still share fond memories of theatre.

Mid shot of Casey Lim

Meet the conceptualiser and director of the play, Casey Lim, who has been acting, directing, designing and creating digital images for more than 20 years.

“Making theatre then, you allow yourself to be very vulnerable with each other,” noted Casey, which made for more authentic story-telling.

But the duo does not intend for The Vault: Past Perfect to just be a chronological retelling of nostalgia. “We’re not in the business of embalming or preserving history,” said Robin. 

Yet, the past is also critical in showing the way forward. Both Robin and Casey are looking to “resist cultural amnesia” by sharing memories with younger Singaporeans and seeking to inspire the next generation of theatre practitioners.

“No one’s memory is more precious than the other. And no one’s memory is the ultimate past that we share together,” Casey explained.

Wide shot of Nelson Chia onstage

They say it’s never truly goodbye, but Past Perfect shares what it means to feel loss for those who have left the theatre scene behind.

They adopted the same philosophy when devising the content and structure, allowing actors to present personal recounts as far as possible. What emerged was even more emotive, including a feeling of loss for those who left the theatre scene, the duo noted. 

The future of theatre

Just like its first run, Robin and Casey want younger viewers to leave with this question: What does this all mean to me?

Mid shot of Robin Loon

As the conceptualiser, dramaturg, and writer behind The Vault: Past Perfect, Robin Loon hopes to convey how the past is a teaching moment for the future of theatre.

“We value what happened in the past, but what we value equally or sometimes even more, is what the people right now make of it,” said Robin, who teaches Singapore theatre at the National University of Singapore. “I do not want to educate, but to inform young artists and the general public (with this production).” 

More than just a blast from the past, The Vault: Past Present represents the hopes that Robin and Casey have for the local theatre scene. After all, remembering the past is what sets the stage for the future. 

Go back in time with The Vault: Past Perfect, which will be staged at Black Box, 42 Waterloo Street, from 25 to 29 October 2023. Students enjoy a 25% discount with the promotional code “STUDENT25OFF” upon checkout. Tickets start from $30.43. 

All photos were shot by Moonrise Studio and all images are courtesy of Arts House Limited.

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