Role Model

Published on 26 October 2017

Photo: Ki’ern Tan

She played a Normal-stream student so convincingly in Checkpoint Theatre’s Normal that it’s hard to believe Claire Chung is a scholar at Cambridge.

By Pamela Ho

Ashley in Checkpoint Theatre’s Normal is a character that elicits your protective instincts, even though she is a ticking time-bomb. While this defiant Normal-stream pupil intimidates with her devil-may-care attitude, she’s a fiercely loyal friend and a fragile soul fractured by disappointments and hurts. In the 2015 and 2017 runs, this complex character was played to perfection by Claire Chung.

So convincing was her acting that you half expect her to cut you off with a snide remark, but Chung – who turns 19 in December – is the epitome of a model student who doesn’t swear or even speak that much Singlish. “That’s why it was so fun to play her, because I’ve never talked back to a teacher!” discloses Chung, who attended a Singlish boot camp for the role. “Ashley’s presence on stage was very intimidating to portray because I don’t have that kind of presence in real life.”

A self-confessed homebody, Chung is a theatre alumna from the School of the Arts (SOTA) and, unlike Ashley, the recipient of a prestigious scholarship to the University of Cambridge.

Listening to this introspective teenager, you quickly catch on that she takes the craft of theatre very seriously. “Even as a child, when people said acting is ‘so fun’, I was like ‘no, it’s hard!’”

She attributes her theatre sensibilities – blossomed from a childhood diet of Western films and stage productions – to her mother, a musical theatre lover. When her engineer-trained father introduced her to the Lord of the Rings films, she was hooked. “I was seduced by the production magic and professionalism of it.”

Claire Chung played the defiant Ashley in Checkpoint Theatre's 'Normal' in both the 2015 and 2017 productions. (Photo: courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Credit: Crispian Chan)

It was this disjunct between what she was doing in her primary school drama club and what she was craving that led this Gifted Education Programme student to choose SOTA. “Because SOTA isn’t a vocational school, I knew I could do theatre at a high level and still focus on my studies.”

Though pursuing theatre professionally was always on the cards, she realised in Year 4 that she really wanted to study linguistics. “I didn’t know then that it’s a subject you could pursue at university, but I realised that what I enjoyed most about theatre and literature was delving into the language.”

So, it was with some relief that she found out Cambridge’s Pembroke College – a place she’d fallen in love with on a family trip at age 14 – admitted linguistics students. Even prior to leaving for England in September, Chung was already checking out avenues where she can continue to do theatre.

While she’s unsure how theatre will fit into her life once she embarks on a career in education, she believes her passions will converge. “It’s very Singaporean to box things, but that’s not how humans work. In SOTA, I managed to find a way to stuff linguistics into all my projects, even Chinese and mathematics! If you like something, you’ll find a way to accommodate it somewhere in your life.”

Claire (second from right) with her close-knit family at Cambridge in September (Photo: Claire Chung)
Claire at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge (Photo: Claire Chung)
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