The LKY Musical is based on Singaporean author, Meira Chand’s story. The author of books such as A Far Horizon, House of the Sun and The Painted Cage, Meira is an established name in Singapore and an associate member of the Centre for the Arts at National University of Singapore. She has also been the Chairperson for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for South East Asia and South Pacific.
Of Indian- Swiss heritage, Meira was born and educated in London and lived many years in India and Japan before settling down in Singapore. It is not surprising therefore, that she brings with her a multicultural perspective, that gets reflected in her novels through themes such as identity and belonging. Her latest offering, A Different Sky, was on Oprah’s recommended list for November 2011 and the book is set against the backdrop of colonial pre-Independence Singapore, very much like the backdrop of The LKY Musical.
As we await the world premiere of the very first musical tribute to the late founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, here’s my Q & A with author Meira Chand, where she talks about the writing process behind The LKY Musical.
PR: How easy or difficult is it to write about a man whose life is this widely known?
MC: There was definitely a difficulty in that, not only are the details of Mr Lee’s life widely known, but when this project began he himself was still alive and the sensitivities of the family, plus the deep political sensitivities surrounding anything to do with Mr Lee and his life, had absolutely to be considered. I felt the only way to deal with this was to use material that was already in the public domain, i.e. Mr Lee’s speeches, newspaper reports, Mr Lee’s own memoirs, or the memoirs of others who knew him well etc.
PR: Which aspect/s of Mr Lee’s life is focused on in the musical?
MC: I chose to focus on Mr Lee’s early life, before independence. I felt this area of his life was less familiar to the present generation of younger Singaporeans. At this time, his persona, beliefs and political skills were also still in the process of evolving through the experiences he was facing. His persona had not yet completely crystallised into the man he later became. He was surrounded by struggle and beset with doubt.
PR: Each Singaporean is bound to have his or her own image of LKY. Did you have an image too and if so, in writing the story, did you feel compelled to move away from your previously held image or did you build on it?
MC: Previous research for A Different Sky had brought me into contact with Mr Lee’s story, but not in a really focused way. Further research for LKY The Musical not only built on, but greatly deepened in a sympathetic way the image I already had of him. I came to know the early man, his bravery and fears and his entrepreneurship through the war years, the misery of life in England and his determination to academically excel, plus the later struggles for independence against a colonial regime and then the communists. Today is it easy to forget that then, the way ahead was not clear to Mr Lee or anyone else, and the courage and single-mindedness it took to be true to his vision was exceptional. The violence and drama of the era have also been almost entirely forgotten; strikes and bloody riots that included students and school-children, and daylight assassinations by the communists were the stuff of everyday life. We also forget how young Mr Lee was, only 36 when he first became Prime Minister.
PR: You had once said, “through the novel, A Different Sky, I have followed the birthing of Singapore dream.” As Mr Lee’s life is very much integral to the ‘Singapore dream,’ are there parallels in The LKY Musical and A Different Sky?
MC: There is certainly some overlap between A Different Sky and the story I wrote that became LKY The Musical in that both are set in the era of pre-independence Singapore. Although Mr Lee’s story is integral to the ‘Singapore dream,’ in A Different Sky that story and the events Mr Lee also lived through and that helped to form him, are lived and experienced by many different characters, each in their own way. Mr Lee is mentioned only towards the end of A Different Sky when he is elected along with fellow PAP candidate, Lim Chin Siong, to the General Assembly, changing the course of politics and Singapore forever. He is present again to indicate the shape of the future, in the last chapter of the book.
PR: I thoroughly enjoyed your book, A Different Sky and especially enjoyed the fact that the story was presented through multiple points of view. Will we see multiple points of view in this story as well? Which other characters influence the narrative in The LKY Musical?
MC: LKY the Musical does not really embrace multiple viewpoints. It focuses much more narrowly upon Mr Lee and his story and struggles.
PR: Most characters in this musical are males. To what extent is the female perspective presented?
MC: This point was much discussed by the creative and production teams and we could find no way around the fact that Mr Lee’s life and also the era he lived in had little room for female perspectives. That said, Mrs Lee, Kwa Geok Choo, was from Mr Lee’s earliest days an overwhelming force of strength and influence in his life. In the musical she is the only female character, and I hope her indispensable presence in Mr Lee’s life will be clear to all, perhaps because she is the only women in the cast.
PR: Lastly, has the experience of writing this story been any different to the other stories that you have written? If yes, how?
MC: Yes, this story has been a very different experience. The whole writing construction was different. It was written more as a visual treatment of something that would finally go on stage, and with this in mind it meant a much a more linear viewpoint and way of writing. Around it what I have enjoyed most is the sense of collaboration. A novelist’s work is solitary work, and working on LKY The Musical, has been one of creative sharing and building in a most exciting way.
Presented by OUE, The LKY Musical will be staged at the MasterCard® Theatres, Marina Bay sands from 24 July 2015 and is expected to continue through the Jubilee celebrations over the National Day weekend. (Tickets on sale at all SISTIC outlets)