Memories of 17A Keong Saik Road go from book to dramatised reading at #BuySingLit festival

SINGAPORE – 17A Keong Saik Road is more than just an address.

It is a setting that has inspired Charmaine Leong’s memoir 17A Keong Saik Road, about growing up in a red-light district, which was adapted into a dramatised reading last weekend as part of the ongoing annual #Buy SingLit festival.

A full house attended the reading last Saturday and Sunday (March 7 and 8) at the Chinatown Heritage Centre. More activities lined up as part of the festival this weekend, including the #Buy SingLit book bazaar at The Arts House from Friday to Sunday.

The idea to turn the memoir into a dramatised reading arose in 2017, Leung and playwright Jean Tay and Drama Box artistic director Koh Hui Ling told The Straits Times.

In 2017, Tay and Koh were working on a play called Chinatown Crossings when they chanced upon Leong’s memoir.

All three women were keenly interested in stories relating to Chinatown and its rich history, and so the idea of adapting 17A Keong Saik Road into a theatrical performance “started floating around in their minds”, said Tay.

Now, a full three years later, their idea has finally borne fruit.

Leung, 47, wrote about her experience of being a brothel operator’s daughter in her book. But the dramatised reading focused more on her relationship with her mother, the operator of the brothel at 17A.

Asked how different is the script from the book, Tay said she replaced some English dialogues with Cantonese ones, even though Leung’s original memoir was written entirely in English.

Tay said that this was a conscious effort to make the story more authentic, as Leung and her mother used to converse in Cantonese.

According to the trio, the dramatised reading, starring local actors Jodi Chan and Tan Beng Tian, was just phase one, and that it is their dream to adapt the memoir into a full-fledged play.

They noted that history and heritage in Singapore is slowly fading away due to rapid urbanisation.

They hope that the reading would satiate Singaporean’s hunger for heritage and history.

This year’s #Buy SingLit movement has more than 50 literary events lined up across the past and upcoming weekends.

Events this weekend include:

– The #Buy SingLit book bazaar at The Arts House from Friday to Sunday (March 13 to 15), which brings together established and independent publishers to offer a wide selection of local and regional literature. Admission is free.

– Performances by three singer-songwriters from Lasalle College of the Arts, who have turned poet Felix Cheong’s poetry into songs. The event is at the Creative Cube at Lasalle College of the Arts on Friday (March 13) from 5 pm to 6 pm. Admission is free.

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