Profile: Jonathan Lim

Published on 11 May 2015

What exactly is a dramaturge? Playwright, director, actor and author Jonathan Lim expounds on his advisory duties in Singapura: The Musical.

BY jo tan

“I’ve made this bed for myself — I want to explore different aspects of theatre, and it’s become an uncommon luxury to focus on one thing,” admits Jonathan Lim, multitalented, multitasking playwright, director, actor and author who mixes and matches his stage skills with great aplomb.

Case in point: Lim is best known for creating the iconic Chestnuts series, theatrical spoofs that provide comic commentary on Singapore’s thorniest topics, in which he writes, directs and acts.

Lim continues his usual multitasking role in upcoming musical Singapura by the Philippines’ 4th Wall Theatre Company. He is slated to perform in the later part of the run, playing the role of a bus driver unwillingly embroiled in the racial and political turbulence of 1950s and ’60s Singapore. He was also the show’s dramaturge leading up to the rehearsal process.

“Dramaturge is a vague sort of word, it can just mean research assistant. Since they already did a lot of research, Singapura’s Manila team might originally have hired me just to advise on correct placement of ‘lahs’,” he laughs.

“I helped with everything from plot suggestions to the nitty-gritty, the 50 shades of Singapore. Like, when the makcik sets up a stall, what is she selling, is it mee siam, is it lontong? What does she say? So maybe my correct title should be dramaturge/script doctor/slang expert. And dialect coach. It was my job to help the Singaporean/Filipino cast collectively sound believably Singaporean.”

While this means Lim wears even more hats than usual, he is excited by the prospect. “Singapura came about because many Filipinos really admire Singapore, and that’s why they persisted with this show even though it is very difficult to take on.

“Some Singaporeans might be resistant to Singapura’s Filipino origins, but it’s precisely because it’s ridiculously difficult that everybody works so hard to take care of details that a Singaporean team might have taken for granted. I’m here to be as tough as the toughest audience will be, and hopefully, we’ll achieve something quite special.”

Singapura won’t be Lim’s only tribute to Singapore this year. He’s also in talks to write and direct a musical about the Singaporean everyman character Mr Kiasu, and is preparing for his SG50 edition of Chestnuts.

“As usual, Chestnuts will satirise some significant Singaporean events,” he reveals, “but why can’t that be considered a tribute? SG50 and Singaporean-ness aren’t all about nostalgia and the past. In the present, we’re vocal. We have the luxury of healthy cynicism that our forefathers didn’t have, plus the luxury to laugh at ourselves. That’s worth celebrating too.

“For example, I’ll also be spoofing Singapura and my part in it. I told the Manila team, even as I’m helping to write the actual scenes, I’m already crafting its spoof insidiously,” Lim chuckles. “Who says I’m not fair?”

Singapura: The Musical plays from 19 May to 7 June at Capitol Theatre Singapore. Tickets available at

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