Veteran performers win Best Actor and Best Actress at The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2019, both taking the top prizes more than a dozen years after their last wins in these categories.
The awards have been given out annually since 2001 by The Straits Times Life to honour the best of Singaporean theatre in the previous year.
Lim Kay Siu has been named Best Actor for playing a man with dementia in The Father by Pangdemonium while Best Actress is won by Goh Guat Kian for playing a woman who descends into poverty in Underclass by Drama Box and The Necessary Stage.
Lim, 63, won the first Best Actor prize at the inaugural edition of the annual theatre awards, for playing a sexist university professor in Oleanna by the Singapore Repertory Theatre.
“Nothing for 18 years,” he says, laughing. “It’s the kind of roles I was doing, a lot of ensemble work.”
Goh, 58, last took the Best Actress prize in 2006 for playing multiple female characters in the Mandarin and dialect drama, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, by The Finger Players.
She says: “It’s already been 13 years? I had no idea.”
She notes that performing opportunities have dropped for her, from doing three plays a year to just one, if she is lucky.
I never set out to be an actor and I fell in love with the process.
BEST ACTOR LIM KAY SIU, who last won the award in 2001
It’s already been 13 years? I had no idea.
BEST ACTRESS GOH GUAT KIAN, who last won the award in 2006
‘An award gives us some kind of credibility’
“For actors, it’s very important to have the chance to perform. Underclass was very good training for me. You seldom have these kinds of opportunities with good characters for an actor to play.”
Playing the role of a woman who loses all her assets because of illness and gaps in the social support system was challenging because it required audience participation at the end.
On at least one night out of the 17-day run, people got up from their seats to help her character.
“I would be happy if my role could make more people wake up and have empathy. The world will be a better place,” she adds.
Lim says winning the award this year has made him think about his early days when he “started acting for therapeutic reasons, to calm myself down”.
And the 2019 winners are…
PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
Leda And The Rage (Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
Lim Kay Siu for The Father (Pangdemonium)
Goh Guat Kian for Underclass (Drama Box and The Necessary Stage)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jeremiah Choy for Leda And The Rage (Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Tan Beng Tian for One Metre Square: Voices From Sungei Road (Wild Rice)
Alkesah (Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
Lim Woan Wen for Citizen Dog (The Finger Players)
Nelson Chia for Pissed Julie (Nine Years Theatre and Macau Arts Festival)
BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT
Thomas Lim for Supervision (Wild Rice)
Oliver Chong for Citizen Dog (The Finger Players)
Tube Gallery by Phisit & Saksit for Private Parts (Michael Chiang Playthings)
Chris Wenn for In The Silence Of Your Heart (Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay)
Andrew Ng and Koo Chia Meng for Supervision (Wild Rice)
“That’s the magic of this award, it reminds me that I never set out to be an actor and I fell in love with the process,” he says.
The role of an ageing man swinging between gentlemanly charm and fearful hatred of his family was originally written by playwright Florian Zeller for an 88-year-old actor, and Lim says such meaty roles are rare.
“I’d love to try it in 25 years, if I’m still around,” he says.
Production of the Year goes to Leda And The Rage, written, directed and performed by Edith Podesta and staged during the annual The Studios season of the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
The play about a survivor of sexual assault dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also nabbed actor Jeremiah Choy the Best Supporting Actor for playing a psychologist and therapist.
Leda And The Rage was 57-year-old Choy’s return to acting after 18 years – his last role was in 2000 for The Spirits Play presented by TheatreWorks. He has been focusing on directing theatre instead.
“It was an important comeback project for me. I’ve always wanted to work with Edith,” he says, adding that it was both “scary and fun” to put his director’s hat aside and return to acting.
Director Podesta, 39, says: “I’m so happy for Jeremiah and very happy for all the collaborators because their work is recognised. I’m also shocked and thankful – all the feels.”
She last won the Production of the Year award in 2017 for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival work B*tch: The Origin Of The Female Species.
The award for Best Director goes to Nelson Chia, 47, co-founder of Nine Years Theatre, for Pissed Julie, a co-production with his Nine Years Theatre group and the Macau Arts Festival.
He has won this award three times before and says the recognition has helped him.
“The theatre awards are very useful when we are interacting with international counterparts. International counterparts can’t understand our work in just one meeting or browsing through our website. An award gives us some kind of credibility.”
He also won Best Director last year for Art Studio, co-produced by Nine Years Theatre and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017.
Both Art Studio and Pissed Julie featured Chia’s NYT Ensemble, a group of actors who work together on a long-term basis.
The director says: “I think there’s something quite special with working with actors again and again. At the same time that I push them and challenge them to excel, they are challenging me. How do I not see them in the same way as I saw them in the last production?”