Cozy up to Judee Tan from Crazy Christmas 2012 (An interview)

This month, we speak to Judee Tan from “Crazy Christmas 2012 – Silver Screen Meets Silver Bells”, and learn more about Dream Academy Productions’ upcoming festive extravaganza!

 
1. We’ve seen you as Kim Bong Cha on “The Noose”, and cracked up at your
parodies in the Chestnut series. What character or parody will we be
expecting to see from you in Crazy Christmas?

Judee: I will performing Dr Teo Chiew Moi again this time round. Audiences have
seen her first appear in The Hossan Leong Show, and most recently in Happy
Ever Laughter. I won’t reveal too much…don’t wanna let the cat out of
the bag.
And since it’s a Christmas show and this year’s theme is Silver Screen
Meets Silver Bells, I will be dolled up glamourously (Thank God!) and
singing and prancing around on stage too. Yippee!

2. This is your first time starring in Crazy Christmas. Are you excited to
be part of this star-studded musical revue? What makes this year’s show a
must-see?

J: Yes I am uber excited because I just LOVE being in Crazy Fun shows! NO
agenda, no doctrine no deep messages – just pure fun and joy. It’s really
the greatest way to spread the festive spirit!

3. Tell me a little more about the mysterious Merry Miss-el’toes and the
musical numbers on the show this year. I heard there will be a swinging
band with strings!

J: They aren’t mysterious! They are bubbly, cheery, lovely and wonderfully
talented. They will be keeping the audiences on their toes with their high
kicks and sexy moves. The numbers are choreographed by Andy Cai, who is an
extremely talented dancer himself but too bad he’s a He. If not he would
sure be joining in the dancing too haha. The band is HUGE this year. And
as they say, strength comes in numbers. With the Merry Miss-el’ Toes and a
17 piece band, the show is definitely going to be just WOW!

4. We’re curious about the “naughty” (with Kumar) and “nice” (with Hossan
Leong) versions of Crazy Christmas this year. Can we bring our young
children and grandparents to the family friendly version?

J: Yes, definitely bring your kids/grandparents to Hossan’s ‘cleaner’,
family-friendly show from 28th November – 2nd December. For people who love a bit more of
raunch and spice, remember Kumar will appear from 4th December – 9th December.

5. As much as Crazy Christmas is great entertainment, it is also a show
that brings people together during the festive season and reminds us of
the goodness of friendship and love. Describe one heartwarming moment
behind the scenes of Crazy Christmas.

J: Ah. We just had a rehearsal with some volunteers from HPB, who are in
support of people living with AIDs. They will be performing a musical
medley with us and when I met them for the first time and we all sang the
first few words, the molecules in the air changed. Sure, Crazy Christmas
is lots of razzle dazzle, but when we rehearse this particular item, it
really brings home the spirit of Christmas – of caring and sharing.

6. If you could cuddle up to someone from the silver screen this Christmas,
who would it be?

J: Oooh… cuddle? Gosh how do I decide? I really love the screen sirens
though… Vivien Leigh is top on my list. She is simply beautiful. But
there’s also Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner.. Oh I can’t choose!

7. Tell us all about your craziest Christmas ever.

J: Spending Christmas Eve in Orchard Road once, many years back. That was
crazy because Orchard Road was so flooded with people, I could not even
walk!

Crazy Christmas 2012 is playing at the Esplanade Theatre from 28th  November – 9th Dec 2012. Tickets range from S$37 – S$117 and are available from SISTIC. To read about Jtbeans’ experience at Crazy Christmas 2011, please click here.

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Review of Dream World Production’s “Company”

Title of performance: Company (based on a Stephen Sondheim musical and book by George Furth)

Theatre Company: Dream World Productions

Date of performance: 6 November 2012

Performance venue: Drama Centre Theatre

One’s impossible, two is dreary,
Three is company, safe and cheery.

Hot on the heels of a spate of Broadway and West End musicals put up by local theatre companies this year, Company by Dream World Productions came in good time. Who would have guessed that adult dinner conversations on relationships could make such good fodder for a musical, still a classic, 40 years on? The tagline was a “musical comedy about being single”, but it was more of a case for being married.

The First Act was a riot, where the audience was treated to a very in-your-face opening number performed by the entire cast. Clever choreography (George Chan) and lighting (Adrian Tan) surely drew in the audience with a spotlight, literally and figuratively, on “what it [was] all about”. As the venue is smaller than your usual one for musicals, it was a pleasant surprise that the space was capitalized to bring the actors and actresses closer to the audience – which really worked because the participatory element came on strong.

And once again, Eucien Chia’s masterful touch on the set was spotted when the audience drank in the well-designed penthouse apartment which could almost be mistaken for one of those condo showrooms in Singapore, complete with pull-out bed, wall sconces for lighting, what looked like a wooden freestanding staircase, and a second storey to simulate a balcony. Even the Steinway piano from the live orchestra, elevated strategically on the stage perhaps for lack of space, didn’t look out of place. The gem of this set, hands-down, was the tall street lamp which the male lead used to slide down from the balcony during two of his musical numbers. Cute.

The opening scene exploded into a burst of song and smattering of speech by 5 couples who had planned a surprise celebration for their friend Bobby’s 35th birthday. We were introduced to our male lead Bobby, played by Peter Ong, a relative newbie to the Singapore scene, but an opera regular. Ong was good but not great, his vocal chops shining through his tepid acting, playing a bewildered observer to the 5 crazy married couples chanting around him to get a wife. He was less of a smarmy bachelor and more safe, presenting a very nice-guy kind of vibe to Bobby such that some of his flirting scenes didn’t seem right. At the end of the musical the character evolved a little such that I felt like I was watching Josh Radnor’s despondent and confused character Ted on How I Met Your Mother.

The couples were the backbone of this production, really. The ladies in the cast (Candice De Rozario, Petrina Kow, Karen Tan, Tan Kheng Hua and Rebecca Spykerman) seemed much stronger than the men save for Juwanda Hassim playing Harry – smooth vocals and comedic timing down pat. When asked by Bobby whether he regrets being married, Harry lead the beautiful song dripping with irony which summed up much of the play’s take on marriage:

You’re always sorry,
You’re always grateful,
You hold her, thinking:
“I’m not alone.”
You’re still alone.

You don’t live for her,
You do live with her,
You’re scared she’s starting
To drift away,
And scared she’ll stay.


You’re sorry-grateful,
Regretful-happy.
Why look for answers
When none occur?
You’ll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.

Petrina Kow’s frenetic portrayal of phobic bride-to-be Amy deserves notable mention as she had the audience in stitches at some of her lines – “It’s raining. It’s a sign, thank God. Now tell him!” Each of the 5 couples presented a different quirk or pitfall of being together, but resigned themselves to the benefits of having companionship that outweighed the dreariness of having to constantly be with someone. The short vignettes in the play were perfect to showcase the strange creature that is marriage or couple-dom, with all its friendly competition and karate fights, divorces, embarrassing dancing, sardonic soliloquies, responsibilities that bind.

It didn’t help that Bobby was paired in the different scenes with three way off-the-mark girls: the one who got away, Kathy (Glory Ngim), boring but shapely flight stewardess April (Seong Hui Xuan), and the crude and narcissistic Marta who insisted that Orchard Road was the centre of the universe (Mina Ellen Kaye). It helped the comedy, though. Marriage is strange, but some single people are stranger.

It’s not rocket science that a single person can have a string of serial dates and no holds barred casual sex without the commitment, but face a kind of loneliness that gnaws into you at the end of the day. I think Company strikes the balance of not being overly didactic about marriage, yet acknowledges the fact that it is very difficult being a single person surrounded by married people.

The satisfaction of watching this production came surprisingly in the unresolved note to Bobby’s dilemma on marriage. Bobby had examined marriage, proclaimed it is “all that”, and questioned “what do you get for it”. Company makes few value judgments in the end, and under the meticulous and skillful hand of director Hossan Leong, is indeed a very enjoyable watch even if it’s just for the laughs. Musically, it may not have hit all the right notes when some of the cast went off-pitch or screamed their numbers a little. On the whole, however, the thoughtful treatment by the production of the choice to be married or remain single, will make you feel like you’re in good company. Catch this production in its extended run, and you will have a blast.

Jtbeans is grateful to Dream World Productions for the invitation and ticket to review the production. The views and opinions in this piece are purely the author’s own. “Company” by Dream World Productions is playing at the Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, from 1-17 November 2012. Tickets available from SISTIC.

Review of ABA Productions’ “Waiting for Godot”

Title of performance: Waiting for Godot

Theatre Company: ABA productions in association with AC Productions, Dublin, Ireland

Date of performance: 12 October 2012

Performance venue: DBS Arts Centre – Home of the SRT

A long-awaited production of Samuel Beckett’s acclaimed absurdist play came to our shores recently. Based on the tale of two tramps, Vladimir (played by Marcus Lamb) and Estragon (played by Patrick O’Donnell), who wait aimlessly in the same spot for someone named Godot to arrive, one got a sense that these characters, mere projections of anyone stuck in a no-man’s land with only veiled truths from cryptic messengers to go on, were desperately struggling with their existence and waiting to no end for an answer to their distress.

This play is known for critics’ and literature academics’ diverse interpretations of the text – ranging from philosophical, political, psychological, religious (Christian), even homoerotic readings of the themes therein. Beckett belonged to an elite group of writers who delved into absurdist literature, along with the likes of Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionescoe, and Jean Genet. This classic play on waiting for practically nothing to happen could only enthrall if the cast was strong and the stage directions were entertaining. Both of which far surpassed my expectations, at least in the first act of this tragicomedy.

The director of the production, Peter Reid, did a fine job of showcasing good physical comedy and making clever use of the space on the stage. I say this because the backdrop and props were so minimalistic, in keeping with the nondescript plotlines of the play and the bare description of the setting (“A country road. A tree”), that the actors had to flaunt their movements to keep tedium at bay. There was only a screen that changed from night to day, a rock for the physically needy Gogo (Estragon) to rest on, and the barren tree. And so we enjoyed, indeed, the good physical rapport between the seemingly more intelligent and philosophical Didi (Vladimir), and the whiny and obsessive Gogo, as they entertained themselves with inane dances, embraced each other after separating briefly, relived vaudeville comedy, peered into their bowler hats and struggled with their boots.

It was good fun to watch the bold and striking entrance of landowner Pozzo (played by Paul Kealyn), with his slave Lucky (played by Nick Devlin). The Pozzo and Lucky characters may have been baffling to some at first, but it was soon made very clear that they too were part of the nonsensical and irrational debacle that Didi contemplates as life. Didi and Gogo first mistake the pompous Pozzo for Godot, but Pozzo quickly refutes this and introduces himself. His abusiveness to the loyal and subservient Lucky causes the poor man to be bent over nearly throughout the whole production from carrying a bag and a basket of Pozzo’s things. Devlin shines in this role as he takes deliberately heavy steps and makes every single one of Lucky’s movements look and feel burdensome to the audience. He had the vacant stare down pat. His was my favourite character, acting like a human dog with a rope around his neck, enslaved to a cruel master who called him “hog” and “pig”. He had no individual autonomy and even stooped to the level to hold his own whip for Pozzo. One of the outstanding moments in the production was when Lucky spouted a staggering monologue full of gibberish after being instructed by Pozzo to “think”, interspersed with repetitions of “in spite of”, “the facts are there” and “time will tell”, and coupled with reference to academics and allusions to Christianity. This monologue drove home the grotesquely comical way that humans sometimes try to make sense of life and present it academically, only to bungle it in a long and vacuous speech of sorts. In Act 2, Pozzo becomes blind and Lucky, mute, supposedly describing fallen greatness and human foolishness respectively.

My other favourite bits were when both Lamb and O’Donnell spouted crisply the famous aphorisms and sayings from the show on meaninglessness and nothingness which currently resonate with audiences worldwide:

“Gogot: Nothing to be done.”

“Gogo: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”

“Gogo: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? Didi: (impatiently): Yes yes, we’re magicians. But let us persevere in what we have resolved, before we forget.”

“Gogo: We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy? Didi: Wait for Godot. (Estragon groans. Silence.) Things have changed here since yesterday. Gogo: And if he doesn’t come? Didi: (After a moment of bewilderment.) We’ll see when the time comes. (Pause.)”

And so it is that Didi and Gogo question why they are waiting for Godot day after day when they don’t have an inkling of who he is and why he wants them to wait for him. In what I think is a crucial speech in the show, Didi questions the value of waiting:

 “Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said? He goes feverishly to and fro, halts finally at extreme left, broods. Enter Boy right. He halts. Silence.

Describing life to be only a process from cradle to grave, where “down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps”, is a most graphic and despondent sentiment. The closing scene shows the two urging each other to go, though both remain immovable. But unlike the opening scenes of both acts, both Didi and Gogo are now standing together, instead of apart when one was resting on a rock and the other stationed beside the tree. Of all the arbitrariness in Beckett’s play, this is perhaps the only certainty – that we will all go through some process of waiting, but we will be haplessly together when doing so. And this, for me, is the ingenuity of this seemingly hopeless tragicomedy.

 ABA Productions’ Waiting for Godot played at the DBS Arts Centre – Home of the SRT from 10 – 13 October 2012.

Highlights of National Heritage Board’s Night Festival 2012

The National Heritage Board’s 5th instalment of the Night Festival was bigger than ever, ranging from The Cathay building, to Armenian Street. Suffice to say that I was not particularly impressed. Some of the offerings of this year’s Night Festival masqueraded as something of cultural value, and the event was really just a mish-mash of random events with no unifying theme. It was a little disorganized and lots of people found themselves puffing and panting just to get to that next performance because of the sprawling venues. And when we arrived at said venue, the not-so user-friendly festival guide and lack of staff on hand made it difficult for us to find the exact spot that each performance would be held at.

That said, it was nice that the Bras Basah and Bugis precinct was buzzing with activity till 2am for 4 nights, and our heritage buildings were awash with light. Also, most of the offerings were FREE. I didn’t need to spend a single cent.

Managed to catch Circus Swingapore, the only school of circus arts in Singapore, which made me wonder if it was only set up for Voyage de la vie. The trio performed at “The Platform” in the National Museum, in a space where the capacity for a crowd was miserable. I felt like I was in a primary school assembly hall because I was made to sit squished on the floor with many others. Spectacular performance, nonetheless. With the combination of agility, grace, and precision, these performers made performing in a circus attractive as an alternative career as they maneuvered the hoops and ropes hanging from the ceiling.

Then I head on down to the SMU green where most of the musical performances were put up. Stumbled across Mylar, a performance by 4 dancers in a suspended pool 15 metres high, part of the Fuerzabruta by Ozono Producciones from Argentina (that’s a mouthful). Supposedly a “collision of dynamic music, visceral emotion, and kinetic aerial imagery” (http://fuerzabrutanyc.com/theshow). All I saw were dancers in wet loose dresses with their underwear showing, sliding across a pool with the audience underneath cheering wildly as the suspended pool descended. I was sorely disappointed in this performance, which was neither sensuous, unearthly or hallucinatory, but plain distasteful.

But before I labelled the night an utter waste of time, I did catch something very entertaining. Beatboxer Dharni and DJ Koflow feat. Bruk Braders! They managed to work the crowd with the dancers from Recognize Studio. This was the way to end the night, with impeccable beats and a wonderful mix.

Till next year, Night Festival!

Review of “Tell me when to laugh and when to cry” by Peter Sau

Title of performance: Tell me when to laugh and when to cry (part of the 2nd season of The Studios)

Date of performance: 8 August 2012

Performance Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

It’s a place to make truth when we need truth, make fiction when we need fiction, make chaos when we need chaos, make imagination when we need imagination…a playground where I fix myself.” – Li Xie, theatre playwright/director/performer

We’ve come a long way.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of a national theatre venue, and also in remembrance of the 10th death anniversary of Kuo Pao Kun, 2011 Young Artist Award recipient Peter Sau put up a monologue which led him to revisit his work as an artist. He inadvertently rejoiced at the birth of a national hunger for theatre which utters the thoughts we can’t vociferate.

It was as if he was speaking to the audience through 5 characters, all part of the exploration of his subconscious, but created together with 5 special collaborators: Gaga Peterina the copycat artiste with a cocaine addiction (with Gani Karim), Branson Sau the very opinionated taxi driver (with Ivan Heng), Mosquito Sau Man the mosquito exterminator (with Natalie Hennedige), korean-drama crazy Mother, the conservative theatre censor (with Li Xie), and HIV-positive homosexual Daniel Sau (with Casey Lim).

Tell me when to laugh and when to cry was just that. A retrospective monologue from Sau displaying his breaking free from the shackles of feeling vulnerable. Letting go, and honouring the practitioners who made him who he was today. This was not a painfully self-indulgent performance but one which celebrated the beauty of being ordinary amidst the backdrop of an increasingly complex world. The affecting voice-overs, startling script written by Sau, Royston Tan’s multimedia prowess displayed in the videos flashed on a state of the art screen, all added to the dark tones and paradoxical feel of the show.

As Sau literally and figuratively stepped into the shoes of his 5 personas, the audience started to see sides of the ordinary that we rarely liked and craved to see. With modulation of the tone of his voice and his manner, he slipped under the skins of 5 very different people with only a few simple stage props – a chair, mannequins and shoes. There was humour, sadness, ambivalence, strangeness, and over all, brutal honesty.

In a way, it was as if the stories of the 5 ordinary characters were projections of the selves of the ordinary man, audience members included. There was the gritty world of drug addiction and self-destruction. Then came the quiet desperation at the political status quo, and emasculation of being rootless and culture-less. Also the eccentric man coping with loss by turning to the opiate of the masses. Lastly, the hypocrisy of seeking bodily pleasure but forbidding the overt theatrical display of it, and the insidious stigma of HIV.

It’s no mean feat to cobble together 5 different characters and work with 5 collaborators with varying creative temperaments and energies. Yet Sau pulled it off masterfully. The delivery of a few lines weren’t perfect but his monologue was gripping and kept the audience on the edge of their seats for the full 105 minutes. I do suspect that a number of references were lost on those who were not familiar with some of the works that were borrowed for the show, myself included.

With a handful of themes and contradictions to flesh out, it’s little wonder that Sau looked exhausted by the end of the performance, but ended the night with rapturous applause and a few standing ovations. We saw Sau in some kind of limbo – when he took off his shoes and stood spotlighted behind the screen which kept flashing different physical settings and stills of his personas, we got a fragmented sense of his self. This was Sau, uncut and uncensored. And in a way, this is us. Always searching, play-acting, and sometimes, with the barrage of information and images assaulting us in this postmodern age, all we really can do is “form up questions, rather than answers, with depth, honesty and clarity.” (Natalie Hennedige)

Tell me when to laugh and when to cry by Peter Sau, played at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 8 August 2012, 8pm, the eve of National Day. There are two other shows on 10 & 11 August 2012. Tickets from SISTIC. Catch this gem while you can.

Review of W!ld Rice’s “La Cage Aux Folles”

Title of performance: La Cage Aux Folles (French translation – the cage of madwomen)

Theatre Company: W!ld Rice

Date of performance: 22 July 2012, matinee

Performance Venue: Esplanade Theatre

Pink. Lots of pink. And, pink. It takes a whole lot of courage, and dollars, to stage La Cage Aux Folles (pronounced ler-karge-oh-fall) in all its spectacular splendor.

But W!ld Rice did it. With much pomp and flair. Having scoured the world to put together the best people to play George (Tony Eusoff) and the Les Cagelles, Glen Goei directed a show easy on the eye and heart. About a not-so typical family of 3 consisting of a gay couple (Tony Eusoff as George, Ivan Heng as Albin) and son Jonathan (Aaron Khaled) who run a drag queen club in Tanjong Pagar by night. Trouble brews when son Jonathan brings home his fiancee Anne (Seong Hui Xuan), daughter to one of the most prominent anti-homosexual parents in the land, politicians Mr. and Mrs. C.K.Tan (Darius Tan, Karen Tan) from the “Traditional Family Morality Party”.

Patron sponsor Man Investments and W!ld Rice angels provided the moolah for the production, which resulted in a flamboyant, feathery, barely-there, all-things-sequined-and-loud wardrobe for Albin and the Les Cagelles. And the dazzling set was draped with lights for the revue, peppered with thoughtful details like soft chandeliers and a sweet moonlit shop front. Many of us wanted to melt when Heng donned his bustier fuchsia dress and hairpiece, false eyelashes and all. The costumes (Frederick Lee) and make-up (Beno Lim, M.A.C. as official sponsor) were simply stunning. And that penultimate scene, where white light and silver flooded the stage, and the Les Cagelles danced to La Cage Aux Folles, just took my breath away. Lady Gaga meets Moulin Rouge, tastefully done indeed. I’ve never seen a more beautiful array of headgear and costumes in my life – it was like an unreal yet scintillating piece of distorted reality. You have to watch it to fully comprehend what I mean.

The things that stood out for me: W!ld Rice’s non-desecration of the multiple Tony award-winning musical, and the faithfulness to its script, with only a few local references to make it accessible. The singing – very nice, though not fantastic, and Tony Eusoff’s wonderful George, who certainly can rival the ranks of Kelsey Grammar’s and Robert Goulet’s Georges. And of course, Jerry Herman’s music. The things that left much to be desired: the live orchestra, and the awkward dancing of some of the Les Cagelles.

Heng grounded the Albin character with a most natural and earthy feel in the moments where he was out of his Lady Zaza character in the show. His petulant and domesticated Albin (“I cooked tau yew bak, ji bao gai, ikan asam pedas and you were nowhere in sight!”) brought out the best in Eusoff’s suave and adoring George, who la-da-da-dah-ed his way to our hearts with his Song on the Sand. Through the couple’s tender displays of affection, we met with a theme that has been making the news lately (think pink). We had to ask ourselves the soul-searching question: is society ready to accept people for who they are?

As much as I wanted to embrace the musical’s timely message of acceptance, the answer, I believe, is as blurry and uncertain as the answer to the question of who in the Les Cagelles were men/ women. It’s a long road ahead to full-blown acceptance here, and the brains behind this production know it. Daring to take this step to stage a relatively controversial play was only the beginning, but a really brave one.

I wouldn’t miss this production, if I were you. Catch it before it fades into just another one-of-those plays. The memory of the bizarre spectacle will stick with you for awhile, and those soft moments between George and Albin will linger on to tug at your heartstrings.

W!ld Rice’s La Cage Aux Folles is playing at the Esplanade Theatre from 20 July to 4 August 2012.

When progress is no Boon – Review of “Boom” by Sight Line Productions

Title of performance:  Boom

Theatre Company:   Sight Line Productions

Date of performance:   5 July 2012

Performance Venue:  DBS Arts Centre – Home of SRT

What is the cost of progress? Shall it be blood on a bureacrat’s hands, neighbourly disputes, tensions running high in families?

In land-scarce Singapore, when something old needs to be destroyed to create something new, a gamut of reactions from citizens may surface. But people don’t often make a squeak in favour of the preservation of heritage in those places, probably out of fear from needing to put their money where their mouth is.

Until this year. The Ministry of National Development announced plans to build an 8-lane carriageway the size of CTE across the Bukit Brown Cemetery, spawning an online petition, heated parliamentary debates, and a campaign.

Thus probably why the newly-formed Sight Line Productions (Derrick Chew, Engie Ho, and Sylvia Tan) decided to do a second staging of “Boom”, a play written by Jean Tay, now also published as a literature text for “O” and “N” level students. It revolved around two narratives, a woman not willing to give up her home to an en bloc sale, and a civil servant trying to arrest some of the effects of a policy decision to exhume the graves in the Choa Chu Kang cemetary for the building of a highway (sounds familiar?).

And the opportunism of Sight Line Productions paid off sweetly, as director Derrick Chew capitalized on the budding interest in the topic of progress vs. preservation, majority vs. minority, persistent memory vs. transience. A strong cast, magnificent set, and two almost seamless narratives that converged, made for wonderful watching and dialogue that hit home on a number of occasions.

The opening scene was most memorable, when the upbeat cadence of superlative language by three property agents (played by Amanda Tee, Benjamin Kheng, and Andrew Lua) grabbed the audience’s attention – the agents were “selling a lifestyle, and a style of life“, where anything and everything could be solved by moving into a spanking new apartment with an infinity pool and panoramic views. Amanda Tee stood out quite clearly in this scene, with her crisp lines and good stage presence, and it helped that she really looked like a property agent, pencil skirt, lanyard and all.

I was afraid that the rest of the play would be done in a formulaic manner, but it was decidedly not. The magnificent set by Wong Chee Wai, and lighting done by Petrina Dawn Tan helped a lot. When the overtly upset Madam Ong Siew Moi (played brilliantly by veteran Fanny Kee) refused to sign the agreement for the en bloc sale of her home at Zion Mansions, the storyline was then inundated by flashbacks where warm orangey light bathed the stage, and sound designer Darren Ng’s eerie and atmospheric music played. The back story to Madam Ong’s resistance to move was her knowledge (albeit shrouded in denial) that her husband was never coming back, and that the fig tree he planted for her was probably the only living vestige of what they had before. Madam Ong’s son, Boon (Andrew Lua’s character), tried desperately at first to persuade his mother to sell the flat, but after realizing how much grief it was causing Madam Ong, decided not to pursue the matter.

Meanwhile, harangued civil servant Jeremiah Dhillon (Erwin Shah Ismail) with the uncanny ability to communicate with corpses ever since his parents passed away, investigated the identity of an unidentified corpse in the Choa Chu Kang cemetary. Initially a site visit to the cemetery in a bid to further the agenda of the fictitious Ministry of Land, this evolved into a personal conquest for Jeremiah. Wong Chee Wai created a plastic second floor of an “ivory tower” to segment the civil servants’ quarters from the rest of the set, and this was clever indeed as it was symbolic. Erwin Shah Ismail was another standout in this show, mimicking an awkward bumbling guy who smiles sheepishly whilst reading a string of near unintelligible civil-service speak announcing the Ministry’s plans, finally evolving into a gutsy man who goes beyond the bounds of his civil servant job scope to care about people over policies. His dialogues with the corpse (Vincent Tee) were good – like a cat talking to a dog, but oh, so funny in its vacuousness.

In a tragi-comic twist, the corpse turns out to be Madam Ong’s husband and Boon’s father who died trying to return to the house to unchain the then 10-year-old Boon from the fig tree, after doing so in a fit of anger. Both Madam Ong and Boon had been inadvertently imprisoned to the house since then, one from the deluded hope that her husband would return, and the other from the memory of how disheveled his sacrificial mother looked after the incident. In the end, the displacement of Madam Ong and Boon from their home was involuntary, after the majority for the collective sale of Zion Mansions was met. Boon tried to move on, but Madam Ong frustratingly declared that she sometimes feels like transforming into a mynah and pecking and shitting on the fancy cars parked in the carpark which her new condominium unit overlooks.

“Boom” is a must-watch for all those living in Singapore who are befuddled by the state of play concerning heritage spaces, and the ever-looming Land Acquisition and Land Titles (Strata) Acts.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, and a good social commentary to boot.

“Boom” by Sight Line Productions is playing at the DBS Arts Centre – Home of SRT from 29 June to 8 July 2012.

We Heart Emma – a memorial concert and fundraiser for The Emma Yong Fund

Camaraderie. A word that came to mind after attending “We Heart Emma”, a memorial and fundraising concert for the late Emma Yong.

Familiar strains filled the Esplanade Concert Hall as guests streamed in to Emma’s splendid rendition of “When all the tears have dried” (Dick Lee, Stephen Clark for Sing to the Dawn).

And it was fitting that this song played, setting the tone for the celebratory evening to come. The tears had dried for many, and though for some the pain of loss will only ebb in time, a beautiful hope borne out of this was the setting up of The Emma Yong Fund to help theatre practitioners experiencing critical illnesses. “We Heart Emma” was thus less of a performance and more of a gathering of Emma’s friends, family, and like-minded fans, rallying together behind a cause inspired by her person.

From the printed eulogies, we learnt that Emma was vivacious, full of life, direct, a perfectionist, and quirky. “Interested, interesting, excited, exciting, intense, and passionate” was how good friend Kheng Hua also described her. It is notable that the main drivers of the fundraiser are Emma’s personal friends, so affected by her life and untimely death that they selflessly did something in remembrance of her. Other than that, the benevolence of 7 theatre companies, SISTIC, The Esplanade, and various other creatives shone through, united by their common acknowledgement of Emma’s contribution to the burgeoning theatre scene.

As the show opened, a custom-made screen was illuminated to show a clip of Emma as Junko the Japanese air stewardess in “Boeing Boeing”. Spouting Japanese in a perfectly honed accent, she had the audience in peals of laughter as she later transformed into minah, swordswoman and cabaret singer in the pieced together video clip.

Perhaps the diverse roles that she played onstage endeared her to the audiences she played to. She was a woman of many accents, and a woman who could just about tackle any genre of music with fervour. After all, her cherubic doll face could be transformed into nearly any kind of character on stage, and she became Singapore’s quintessential theatre darling. DJ and actress Denise Tan commented that “those who didn’t know her, felt like they got to know her when she performed onstage.

As the night wore on, the audience was treated to a glitzy showcase of some of Singapore theatre’s big names. The hour-long concert was lovingly performed by Emma’s friends: Adrian Pang, Glen Goei, Ivan Heng, Sebastian Tan, Robin Goh, George Chan, Pam Oei, Selena Tan, Tan Kheng Hua, Karen Tan, Denise Tan, Sharon Au.

Grief had subsided, and there was an air of measured jubilance as the performers reminisced about Emma in song and dance. We watched as Sebastian Tan cha-cha-cham-boed and professed that Emma had often corrected the Broadway Beng’s spoken English (E.g. “Where have you been?” instead of “Where have you bin?”). Robin Goh and George Chan crooned a French Charles Aznavour song, “For Me, Formidable”, which they had performed previously with Emma in “A Singaporean in Paris”. And because Emma had acted in a number of Dick Lee’s musicals, a Dick Lee medley was performed, featuring songs from “Beauty World” and “Hotpants”.

And of course, Selena Tan and Pam Oei also sang a medley of Dim Sum Dollies songs, sans one precious harmony. The Dollies would not be the same without Emma, because the distinctive group had been propelled to household fame in the country and performing to sell-out audiences for 10 years. Poking fun at Singaporeans’ idiosyncrasies from “parking pontianaks” to “food court aunties”, “forgotten icons of Singapore” and “giggling schoolgirls”, they made it ok to laugh at ourselves. Tan and Oei also recounted that the three were part of an unforgettable courtesy campaign running on the “Mass (not-so) Rapid Transit”.

The audience hushed when Robin Goh performed the Jazz standard “I’ll be seeing you”. He emoted the pain of loss in every line. “I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day/in everything that’s light and gay/I’ll always think of you that way/I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you”. As the concert drew to a close, Hossan Leong and Michaela Therese joined the cast in a beautiful and sacred rendition of Emma’s favourite hymn, “Amazing Grace”, anchored by Denise Tan and boosted by the Concert Hall’s acoustic canopy. This was topped off by the final performance, the soul-searching “Seasons of Love” from Rent the musical.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learnt

Or in times that he cried

In bridges he burnt

Or the way that she died?

Her memory will live on, as long as we remember the sacrifices that theatre practitioners make in the name of their art.

If you wish to make a donation to The Emma Yong Fund, please visit http://www.emmayongfund.org/ for more details. “We Heart Emma” played at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Friday, 15 June 2012.

Review of “Vertical Road” by The Ruminating Squirrel

I just received news that the Singapore Arts Festival will take a hiatus next year. While I puzzle over that decision, am grateful for yet another guest review on a recent dance performance at the arts fest. This review was written by my friend and colleague, The Ruminating Squirrel!  

Title of performance:  Vertical Road

Dance Company:   Akram Khan Company

Date of performance:   1 June 2012

Performance Venue:  Esplanade Theatre

This is not so much a review of Akram Khan Company’s “Vertical Road” as an attempt to capture in words the depth and breadth of what I witnessed. Contemporary dance rarely impacts me as much as theatre, but this performance seared my consciousness deeply with its sheer visceral quality, raw physicality and palpable spirituality. Drawing his inspiration from the work of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, Khan’s work fused the traditions of classical kathak, Asian martial arts and elements of Sufism. “Vertical Road” tells the story of a journey from one state of being to another. The journeyman is a solo dancer that encounters and interacts with seven other dancers, as he moves from one state to another. We the audience, borne along on this journey, were relentlessly pulled up on evolving cycles of lyrical movement, suffused with Nitin Sawhney’s evocative and compelling soundscapes.

The cast of 8 dancers, drawn from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, individually and collectively sculpted tangibility and meaning out of their spaces to weave stories of life and death; creation and destruction; power and submission; love and loss; oppression and liberation; cyclical migrations between opposing states of being. These were layered with the repeated motif of the whirling dervish, the Sufi mystic abandoned to the ecstasies of the God-consciousness, simultaneously receiving and giving sacred influence with outstretched arms; an intermediary between the Divine and the earthly.

Draped in pale, monochromatic robes that lent them structure and fluidity at the same time, the dancers’ controlled athleticism was breathtaking to behold. Their movements were flowing and precise, with hardly any gratuitous or superfluous gestures. They weren’t merely going through the motions of blocked and set pieces; the dancers seemed to manifest an inner motivation – a personal search for meaning, perhaps – in their interpretation of the choreography. Their performance was set within a minimalist context – a bare stage with a translucent plastic sheet that the dancers interacted with in their storytelling. The stage lighting was sensitively designed, heightening the emotion and tension of the performance to great effect.

A well-respected actor and director once said to me: “The mission of the performer is to unite the house.” My feeling was that Khan and his cast, in taking us through the journey of the dance, succeeded in unifying us in a state of wonderment and introspection that would remain with us for no short period of time.

PS. Thanks to KS for having the foresight to pick this gem to watch.

Vertical Road performed at the Esplanade Theatre on 1-2 June 2012, as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. 

ABOUT THE RUMINATING SQUIRREL

The Ruminating Squirrel is a practising lawyer who tries to cram what little spare time she has with reading, art, music, cooking for friends, coffee, and running…

Baked beans – a commentary

The mysterious polarizing Sticker Lady

Who is the Sticker Lady, SKL0?

In my eyes, she’s just another person who is the subject of an online petition which has gone viral on Facebook and other social networking sites. She’s no one significant, just someone who showed me the ills of herd behaviour on social media yet again.

This 25-year-old girl made tongue-in-cheek expressions into stickers and stuck them around town. Expressions like “no need to press so hard”, “press once can already”, and “press until shiok” were stuck above the buttons for pedestrians at traffic lights. She even spray-painted “my grandfather road” on several roads (in front of the Ministry of National Development building, no less!).

Have been astonished by the number of people who have signed the online petition to MICA to lessen her charge from a Vandalism Act (Cap. 341) charge to a Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisances) Act (Cap. 184) charge. Have they thought through the ramifications of what they are doing? I don’t even think that the person who created the petition has much knowledge of law. I have my doubts as to whether Sticker Lady’s actions can be classified as falling under Section 11 (1) (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisances) Act, which literally deals with buildings, walls and fences only, not traffic lights and roads.

I’ve seen so many comments berating the powers-that-be for quashing creativity, enforcing the law without contextualizing, and not knowing the distinction between street art and vandalism.

I think otherwise. If you do something which you know is clearly against the laws in your own country, you are only tempting your own fate and making yourself open to state action. You have to be prepared to face up to the consequences of your own actions and this is part of respecting the legal structures in place. Even if this means being prosecuted for a Vandalism Act offence and being penalized with up to 3 years in jail just for some stickers you carefully designed and pasted on traffic lights. I don’t think an online petition is going to help very much, unless one wishes to go into a discussion on the substantive merits of that law, and then petition for its repealing – that, I think, is a different and separate issue.

Petitions like the aforesaid are only indicative of public sentiment, which, apparently, is still at current publishing time 13, 616 persons in favour of amending her charge out of a target of 20,000, because not many people have the courage to stick their necks out for this girl and sanction her acts retrospectively.

If the Sticker Lady’s acts were in the name of art and not vandalism, then why not call for her to be released altogether? I know there are some people in support of this position. But the fact that the above mentioned petition primarily calls for the amending of her charge, indicates that people still believe that she did something out of the bounds of normal behavior.

And if the police and public prosecutors respectively do choose to release her and/or amend her charge, what kind of signal is it sending to the public? That one can get away with spray-painting roads as long as the vandalism is humorous and tastefully done? That what she did is not vandalism, but mere public nuisance? Who will be the arbiter of art vs. vandalism? One man’s art is another man’s graffiti. Why were the general public’s reaction to the Oliver Fricker MRT vandalism case so vastly different from this one? He was sentenced to 5 months’ jail and 3 strokes of the cane and it didn’t create as big a ruckus this one. Wasn’t what he created akin to a beautiful decorative spray-painting on the MRT train as well?

For the record, I heard Sticker Lady had been warned before, because her stickers were a nuisance to the handicapped at traffic lights.

People who know me well understand that I love the arts and I welcome the liberalizing of the scene in Singapore. Thus I must say that there are already a number of very conducive spaces for expression here. Instead of exhibiting her works or selling them at the many flea markets around Singapore, Sticker Lady made the poor choice of vandalising public property. Singapore has already chosen to loosen up on a number of fronts, but I think encouraging this vandal further is not beneficial to all of us. She’s crossed the line here, no doubt. And I won’t consider her much of an artist; don’t see much in her message and acts that are worth defending at all.