It was while reading the script of John Van Druten’s 1951 Broadway play I Am A Camera that Lindsey Kennedy came up with the idea for the Phnom Penh Players’ latest outing.
“The backdrop is anti-Semitism and violence, and slightly feckless expats just existing and trying to understand and record it but not really all that involved,” says Kennedy. “They’re kind of floating above it and when it all starts to get nasty they can leave but leave friends behind.”
Despite being set in 1930s Berlin, the subject struck a chord with Kennedy, who has adapted the play for audiences in Cambodia, switching 1930s Berlin for late 1960s Phnom Penh. “I thought, if I change the names then I’m already half way there,” she says. “It was exactly the same way people talked about Khmer-Vietnamese in 1969/1970.”
Set in the Cambodian capital during that time, the play follows seven friends: American singer Sally (Jessica Scalzo), English writer Chris (Fionn Travers-Smith), struggling Cambodian entrepreneur Kosal (Thearo Nuch), Viet-Cambodian student Linh (Nurul Abdul Aziz), loaded American playboy Clive (Stevo Joslin) and Sally and Chris’s Khmer landlady, Chanthavy (Leakhena Setha).
As signs of war starts to seep into the city and racial tensions mount, the friends are forced to navigate ambition, heartbreak, conflicting loyalties and the violence that is erupting around them.
“I’m fascinated by that time in history,” says Kennedy, who directed and adapted I Am A Camera. “You hear so much about the genocide and all the things that happened but it’s this moment before, right at the end of the Golden Age where you’ve got this great dream of Cambodia that’s slipping away that I’m fascinated by.”
Dubbed a “love letter” to the Kingdom’s Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s, the play also serves as a nod to this creative era in Cambodia’s history. Film footage and Khmer rock ‘n’ roll intersperses scenes, with the costumes and props also paying testament to this period in time.
And the location has carefully been selected, with Street 63 Bassac restaurant’s traditional Khmer house providing the setting for the performance, which is played out in a room in a similar setting.
Fionn Travers-Smith, who is making his Phnom Penh Players debut as Chris, adds, “The current international context where there are some very brutal conflicts, particularly in the Middle East and parts of Africa, also gives the play a lot of gravitas and weight.”
Pulled together in less than two months, the Players’ latest outing is definitely one not to be missed.
It can be seen at Street 63 Bassac, Street 308, on June 1 and 2 at 7.30pm and June 3 at 2.30pm. It can be seen at The Republic in Siem Reap on June 9. Tickets are $10, with proceeds going to Sarus, an organisation that builds relations between bordering countries with histories of distrust.
For more information, follow Phnom Penh Players on Facebook.