Being chased by vampires on top of a hill

22 05 2012

My last encounter with a “vampire” was one that occurred in my childhood. It was in the dark of night that a vampire, suspiciously resembling the ones that Christopher Lee depicted in the many Dracula movies that we got a diet of on the television at the end of the 1960s, appeared to me. The vampire wearing a toothless scowl, had in his deep voice, asked for me to return his fangs which he insisted I had stolen, back. Then, mock vampire fangs which fit over the teeth like a mouth guard were the rage – they cost then a very affordable 5 cents and along with many of the boys of my neighbourhood, I had one of them. As funny as the encounter, which came in a bad dream whilst I was fast asleep, does now sound, I terrified and promptly disposed of the mock vampire fangs as soon as I was able to and I never in my childhood allowed myself to sit through a vampire (or pontianak) movie ever again!

An encounter with a vampire at Old School.

The next encounter that I was to have some forty years after that first – one that I volunteered for, safe in the knowledge that there was no way that the vampires I was to encounter were going to ask for their teeth back. This encounter was a staged one – literally, being a rehearsal for THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC, a site-specific and interactive multimedia installation at Old School for the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. Pandemic is set in what is described as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that is Singapore, six months after a final battle which saw the few remaining vampire hunters lose the battle against the spreading vampire pandemic. There are a few survivors who somehow survived, of which the audience is part of, following a character – former industrialist Maggie Tan who with some 150 survivors, make their way on an adventure to the headquarters of the quasi-religious group – Quiddists, which is led by the charismatic Chester Rickwood, at the Old School. There the audience will be immersed in a struggle as much against the vampires as with the various personalities involved – being forced to choose who they wish to follow … knowing that the bloodthirsty creatures of the night will eventually get to them.

Headsets for the audience.

And instructions so that the audience does not stray.

The entrance.

With what seemed like the promise of an experience that perhaps would be more complete than that of amusement park haunted house, I agreed to attend the rehearsal. Equipped with the necessary gear that included a media player and headsets, a map and an emergency light, I followed the crowd through the entrance to the headquarters of the Quiddists, half expecting to be frightened out of my wits. On the walk through there certainly were attempts to create signs of presence of the supernatural – bloodstains and bloodied clothes, circles cast on the ground with chalk and smoke trails with the smell of incense hanging in the air – to protect against the forces of the netherworld. It wasn’t, as I understand, meant to be frightening – just to raise fear levels a little so that the audience would be in a state that allows participation.

The passageway …

Signs of a vampire pandemic?

Scenes of carnage along the way …

Lighting up the darkness.

Participation comes as the audience is introduced to the plot through the main characters who range from a young CEO who had seen the apocalypse coming, Chester Rickwood, to a couple of battle weary vampire hunters. The plot was interesting on its own and certainly provided an excellent platform for participation. This except for being in the thick of what was going on and being made to feel a sense of urgency in being moved from one place to the next, unfortunately did not really take place, and I felt I was watching rather than participating for good part of the dialogue that took place among the characters.

The audience gets to participate in some way…

Maggie Tan (elevated left) and Grace (right).

Chester Rickwood.

Morton, Maggie Tan’s right-hand man.

Quinn? The legendary vampire hunter.

Grace, a disturbed vampire slayer.

Quinn and Maggie Tan.

The audience being made to move with a sense of urgency.

In all, the hour-long performance does serve to entertain although not in the way I envisaged and is worth an evening out, if not for the performance, at least for the workout and the feel of what may well be a haunted part of the old Methodist Girls’ School that will soon make way for the inevitable – not the pandemic of bloodthirsty fanged cousins of Dracula, but one of the glass, steel and concrete tower blocks that have spread around a once magical hill like a virus. THEY ONLY COME AT NIGHT: PANDEMIC will open this evening and is on until Sunday (22 to 27 May 2012) with two performances each evening. More information including on that of ticketing is available at the Singapore Arts Festival website.

The final scene.

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…Saving the world from an intoxicating vampire virus.

You heard about them previously – mysterious attacks in dank underground car parks and bloodsucking creatures from ancient Europe seemingly taking root in today’s modern times – and you ignored them.

Now, the vampire virus has become an unstoppable pandemic.

The final battle was fought in Singapore, where the world’s remaining vampire hunters fought valiantly to the end for mankind. And lost.

Or perhaps not. Six months after the dust has settled, survivors surfaced. Some lived through sheer grit. Some just got lucky.

Some are not even sure how they made it through but are grateful anyway. You are one of the blessed.

Together with former industrialist Maggie Tan and 149 other survivors, you trudge through an apocalyptic wasteland. The destination: the Old School, the headquarters of the quasireligious group – Quiddists – led by the charismatic Chester Rickwood, who believed in channelling the natural energy of his followers.

Although undefended, the Old School lasted much longer than other strongholds. Can it possibly hold the key to questions that need to be answered? How did Rickwood’s Quiddists last so long?

How did the vampires finally overcome Rickwood’s commune? And what on earth is to be done now?

You and the team have some time to unearth the answers. But not too much. The creatures will discover your existence, and when they do, they will come for you.


…if you are excited about new experiences, and fancy the idea of an interactive and multimedia installation.

…if you enjoy unique site-specific projects with specially crafted storylines.

…if you love the concept of vampires.

Singapore. Singapore. Where it must end.

About The Singapore Arts Festival

The Singapore Arts Festival began in 1977 as a national showcase celebrating the local arts of Singapore’s diverse communities. Over the last three decades, the Festival organised by the National Arts Council, has played a symbiotic and catalytic role in the development of the artistic and cultural life of Singapore. It has influenced the work of artists and generated a growing public demand for the arts, spawning new capital platforms, events and movements that help underpin the lively cultural scene in Singapore.

The Festival saw its turning point in 2010 as it embarked on a new phase of development under the leadership of Low Kee Hong. Key changes and initiatives include turning this international arts platform into a Creation and People’s Festival with a vital year-long participation programme, com.mune to sustain the Festival’s engagement with the public beyond individual shows staged during the Festival period. The commune events and activities are tailored for four groups: new audiences — people who may not have encountered the arts; arts lovers — people who buy tickets to performances; arts makers — artists and teachers who inspire their students through the arts; and arts volunteers — people who have the heart to make a difference.

The Singapore Arts Festival has now become an international showcase of ideas, art and discourse with a distinctive Asian flavour, known for its bold and innovative discussions between vernacular and contemporary art.

Singapore Arts Festival 2012: Our Lost Poems

The 2012 Festival will be held from 18 May – 2 June 2012. This edition of the Festival completes the trilogy of themes set out two editions ago – Between You and Me (2010), I Want to Remember (2011), Our Lost Poems (2012). Over these 16 days, the city comes alive with an infusion of performances at the Festival’s hub – the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park and other key venues. There is something for everyone this year, from ages 1 to 100.

Windows to Heaven

30 11 2011

High on a hill in Singapore’s city centre, sits a quaint and proud old house. Having seen many of its companions in over the 12 decades of its existence come and go, it is one of the survivors of a moment in time when one might have seen the setting it was in as Heaven in Singapore. The hill is one that would have commanded a spectacular view of the fast growing city around it, making it an ideal choice for the well-off to build homes that were worthy of their status. Much of that has disappeared through the ravages of time and urban development, and although it is still a fairly exclusive residential neighbourhood, it is in towering blocks of private apartments which now obscure that once magnificent view, that its residents now live in.

An early photograph of the House on the Hill on display.

An elevation off a copy of the original plans for the former Tower House. The quaint old building was designed by Crane Brothers' Architects and built in 1892.

The house, with an exterior of concrete decorated by its wood and wrought iron work fittings, speaks not just of a style from a forgotten past, but also of one that was built very much with the local climate in mind. It is certainly one that is hard to miss, standing tall across the entrance to the Old School complex on Mount Sophia that once housed Methodist Girls’ School and apart from the developments that makes it seem like it is out of place. It is probably ironic that it owes its survival over the years to the buildings across the road whose own survival is now in question, having been owned by the Methodist Mission that ran the school for a good part of its later life during which time it was referred to as ‘Tower House’.

The House on the Hill.

A window to the Old School complex with which the history of the old house is intertwined.

A patio-like space at the entrance to the house.

Beautiful ironwork grilles.

A view through the fence to the patio.

One of the features of the house’s architecture is the generous amount of light and ventilation it is afforded through the generous amount of shuttered windows and balcony doors, and it is this that immediately catches the eye – not so much the tower it was named after that rises above the second floor. It was the doors and windows that were more often than not closed that first drew my attention to the house, imagining them to hide something sinister from a past that was not known to me which I often wondered about. And it was only through a recent exchange of correspondance with Mr Oliver Bettin, who has taken over the lease of the house and through his kind invitation to a party he held over the weekend that I was able to discover that it had a past less sinister that I might have liked to have imagined. Mr Bettin has not just done the place up beautifully, in preparation for its use as a pre-school ‘The House on the Hill’ which will commence operations next year, but also sought to find out more of its past.

I've often wondered what secrets the numerous shuttered windows and doors had hidden.

Windows and doors that would have once opened up to a view of what might have been called a piece of Heaven. A doorway through which the magical sight of Eu Villa would have once greeted the eye.

Inspired by what’s he has read of the glorious past of Mount Sophia, Mr Bettin has sought to also find out more on the house he now leases, making headway with some of what he’s found in the Methodist Church’s archives. One of the things Mr Bettin has managed to establish, is that the house, designed by Crane Brothers’ was constructed in 1892, on the basis of a copy of the original building plans he obtained from the archives. The Methodist Church he has also found out, bought the house in 1932, using it first as an extension of the growing school as well as to house missionaries before finally turning it to the Women’s Society of Christian Service for its use until it was acquired by the Singapore Government in 1998.

Mr Bettin has managed to find out quite a bit on the history of the house.

I was certainly thankful to have an opportunity to see the insides of the beautiful house. It was indeed it was a wonderful place to spend a Sunday evening exploring. While there is probably very little left to connect it with its original state, it is not difficult to imagine how it might have been with large well ventilated rooms that open out to the garden or to a verandah or the expansive balcony through what would once have been shuttered windows and doors some of which might possibly have been the original ones when the house was built. It was in the shuttered doors and windows that I took most delight in, the carved venitilation openings at the top being very much a joy to behold. It is also in looking out of the windows and doors as well as from the balcony and the tower – probably opened originally but is now enclosed by more recently added glass louvered windows, that it is not difficult to imagine the view that the house had in its early days commanded of the growing city a hundred feet below and of the harbour in the distance. That view was certainly the motivation not just for the building of the house where it is, but also for how it had been designed with its balcony and tower. The view would certainly have been a magnificent one, overlooking not just the southern slope of Mount Sophia, Government House to the west, a growing city to the east, and Fort Canning Hill to the south, but also over the eastern slope on which first Adis’ grand villa made its brief appearance, being replaced not long after by Eu Tong Sen’s fairy tale like mansion. That must certainly have been a magical view, one which staring out towards, might have looked like it was a slice of Heaven that one was looking out into.

Possibly the original wooden shuttered windows?

And matching wooden shuttered doors.

The staircase.

Window Grilles by the staircase.

The spacious balcony.

A view from the balcony.

The generous space in the airy rooms make the house ideal for use as a pre-school.

At the top of the tower - glass louvered windows that would have been added later.

The view from the Tower.

A view through a ventilation opening.

Glass louvered windows where that might have been wooden shuttered ones.

More windows - again probably not the original ones.

A new window to the new world built over what had been Eu Villa.

A view of where Heaven might now be through glass louvered windows.

A verandah.

Doors to the balcony.

A view through to the balcony.