Every once in a while, various theatre companies showcase works from their playwright incubation process. Standard varies from company to company, from playwright to playwright. Some works are hit-and-miss, some are brimming with potential and some are really well written.But every once in a while, one is gold.
I normally write my entry soon after watching the show but Dora Tan's play made me ruminate for a while. I saw her work during Short & Sweet a few years back and I remembered her name since. The premise of the play was interesting to begin with. The death of a father coincides with a returning daughter's sham wedding. The rest of the play was filled with cleverly-devised event triggers, showcasing the family dynamics with Dora's signature blend of hilarity. I was particularly delighted to see how Dora masterfully weaved the individual discovery of the father's death in a manner which progressed the plot. The father's death had a different distinct impact on each character and collectively they helped to move the play. I agree with some who thought that these "events" were somewhat staged, but I felt they were still within the boundaries of my suspension of disbelief. There was no doubt that Dora had very good awareness for the stage and wrote a play for the stage.
Dora also expediently demonstrated her comedic line writing skills. There were various lines which made the audience bend over and laugh. Particularly impressive was the mother's interaction with Alister. I like how the mother was talking to her prospective son-in-law, while tuning him out at the same time (in a subconsciously deliberate manner). I liked how her strong traditional beliefs made her oblivious to the angmoh's obvious cry of distress. That, to me, was the true gem in this play.
Because this is a playwright incubation platform, I thought I would share some thoughts on the play itself. I would really have liked to see a bit more redemption factor for the mother. I could believe (to a fairly plausible extent) that she did what she did, but I wanted to know why. It was not clear (nor compelling) the reason why she had to marry her daughter in spite of her husband's death. If it were for tradition (like the very strong traditional views that she held in "perfecting the wedding"), I would think most Chinese believe that having a death on the day of wedding is not a good sign (and choose to reschedule for the better date). If it were out of love for the daughter, she did not have any reason to suspect the wedding to be a sham (at that juncture) and would not be in a hurry to marry her off. I also did not see much mother-Saraphina interaction to justify any estranged relationship. (Though I must add I am not a fan of having an epic mother-Saraphina breakdown scene with lines like, "I THOUGHT YOU NEVER LOVED ME!", "NO, I HAVE ALWAYS DONE MY BEST FOR YOU" blah blah kind of cliche lines.) I guess I wanted to see the mother a bit deeper than that.
There was also an astonishing lack of concern for the father's death. This uneasy feeling towards their dearth of concern started with their voluntary concealment of the father's death from one another, to the end where even after they collectively established the father's death, they remained nonchalant about it. I think Dora saw this problem, and she planted the angmoh in the room to be ironic outsider who gave some worry about the father in rigor mortis.
And perhaps I would like to have known a little more about the father. I thought it would have been nice if the characters could build up an image of the father for the audience. Someone who was constantly mentioned but not seen in the show. Perhaps a domineering, unforgiving authority? Or perhaps just to cast some mystery onto the father character - to slightly raise the suspension of disbelief for the audience.
However, however, however, having said all that, there was no doubt that I enjoyed the play tremendously. I was truly really deeply wholeheartedly happy after watching the play. The performance by the actors were nothing short of breathtaking as well. I look forward to this play maturing further as well as any future works by Dora. Samantha Blackhall did a wonderful job in bringing the cast together and created such lovely dynamics on stage and it was nothing short of sheer happiness watching it.
Justwatchlah score: 4.5/5
Stand Behind the Yellow Line Garisan Kuning (Written by Michelle Tan)
I lift this directly from the synopsis: Awaiting her son’s release from jail, a single, homeless mother finds an unlikely friend in the young, well–off but clinically depressed Mo. Set in an unidentified yet vaguely familiar locality, a place where rules are rules are rules are not made to be broken, Stand Behind the Yellow Line is a formally inventive and oddly lyrical play about the people who find themselves living outside the lines.
Stand Behind the Yellow Line had interesting characters on stage. Jean Toh did a lovely job of being the awkward friendly outsider who offered help to the wildly impressive Zelda Ng as the homeless mother. Michelle Tan wrote great lines developing the somewhat dependent relationship between Zelda and Jean. I would however have liked to see a bit more co-dependence from Jean on Zelda (what made Jean want to help Zelda?), and as well as the relationship between Zelda and her son.
I liked how Jean and Zelda's characters could not understand each other and yet despite that they managed to communicate and established a relationship. That was the best part of the play!
Unfortunately, Michelle Tan's Stand Behind the Yellow Line did not
garner from me as much excitement as Dora Tan's work. I admit this is an
entirely personal view but I am rather tired of political satires about
Singapore. As much as I do not like his works, I give credit to Jack
Neo for being one of the first people making funny satires about
Singapore. Unfortunately, that was over a decade ago and since then,
various various various playwrights (my younger self included) have
attempted writing political satires. As a viewer, it gets very tiring. There are the occasional well
written ones, but most are rather calculated - as if only to milk the
audience's laughs/apparent disdain. When even the synopsis (I found out
after the play) used descriptors like "set in an unidentified yet
vaguely familiar locality", I was not particularly impressed. This
underscores my point about such plays being too deliberate and
calculated to demonstrate that "this is a satire".
The play itself was riddled with blatant political digs, trivialized by the illogicalities. I know the government official is unrelentingly inflexible and caused a lot of problems because of his adherence to the "rules". But when every single problem in the play cannot be solved and everything could be attributed to rules are rules are rules, there really was not much point in having different plot problems on stage for the playwright to solve anyway. The definition of a non-family? Because you got no father. This is not your home. No, but this is my home. No this is not your home. You have no family. Then what about the other people in this society who have no father? Are they all discriminated too? These were questions that I wanted to know when watching the play. It's possible for a playwright to create a mock society, but it has to be consistent (or at least explained).
Oh, and the ending... the son? The implausibility of that ending stood out too strongly. I guess the significance was that the Mayor Man was so bounded by the rules he set that he would even give up acknowledging his son. But why? Why did he do that in the first place? Has there been attempt to conceal that blemish of his? Why has he not contacted her to pay her off? Does he not care about his reputation? How did they meet when she doesn't speak his language? What is his reaction to a son?
"Rules are rules are rules" repeated for umpteen times! Yes I know the point was to insinuate that there are too many stifling rules governing Singapore, and that we feel trapped behind the yellow line "boundaries". But using rules are rules are rules to punctuate the lines of one character was (perhaps intentionally) annoying.
I thought Michelle Tan's lines were great, Jean and Zelda's characters were interesting to watch. Perhaps if the play could have been focused on them, taking away all the in your face political references, something more would have come out. Perhaps the story could be built on the basis of Jean and Zelda, and develop outwards from there. If it just had been a story of how Zelda's son was taken away and Jean is helping her, and these characters were written such that the audience can connect with them and want them to succeed, then I could infer that the political boundaries can caused them these problems and infer that the rules have trapped and destroyed Zelda's life. I really did not need the characters in my face going "rules are rules are rules".
Personal note: I think SRT's Stage TWO is a really really good incubation programme for playwrights. Looking at the people these playwrights had the chance to work with... I am deeply immensely jealous. Looking forward to the next installment.
March 9, 2014
March 7, 2014
11 to 23 March 2014 - SOTA Drama Theatre
Following the huge success of A FRENCH KISS IN SINGAPORE, Sing’theatre returns with its 2010 sold-out musical:A SINGAPOREAN IN PARIS!
Directed by Hossan Leong, this must-see show revolves around the experience of a Singaporean artist who travels to Paris to pursue his life-long dream of performing in a cabaret. He navigates his way around a new city, language and culture and finds himself in the company of other foreign talents, each pursuing their own dreams and overcoming their own hurdles in this exotic new city.
Paris and the Parisians are not always what they expect and romance doesn't always come with wine and accordions!
Join our international cast Linden Furnell, Mina Kaye, Peter Ong, Vicky Williamson, and embark on a journey through Paris with our ‘Singapore Boy’ Hossan Leong!
That's not it!
Sing’theatre goes the extra mile with a new Corporate Social Responsibility activity: Jewellery made out of used Nespresso capsules will be sold before each performance of the upcoming musical ‘A Singaporean in Paris’, to raise funds for Sing’theatre community-outreach events.
February 25, 2014
Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They fall in love and start dating. Couple gets judged because girl is fat.
Neil Labute's take on the standard love story is relevant, and simultaneously entertaining while also striking you in the emotional gut every so often. I really liked the premise, and the play certainly delivered in terms of controversiality, though it dipped at other points too. It's a play with a very simple message: if society doesn't approve of it, things are going to turn ugly. The message gets a little repetitive after a while though, and the office scenes started to drag after some time because they were basically the same scene with different lines and escalated emotions. Also, Carter was an annoying character. Charming yes, and with humourous input, but apart from being a douchebag had essentially zero redeeming qualities. But the other three characters were great, and the relationship between Tom and Helen really anchored the whole play together, staying believable and likeable, and had the whole audience rooting for them all the way through. Which led to the ending scene basically being one big bad tearjerker scene. It's a very up and down script, with the Helen/Tom scenes being very cute, yet realistically portraying a couple in love becoming a couple in doubt, and the office scenes ranging from the preposterous arguments to humour (which worked and fell flat sometimes).
I was impressed with the cast. This is the second time I'm seeing Gavin Yap onstage after W!ld Rice's Importance of Being Earnest and it was nice to see him play a multi-faceted character with all sorts of emotions onstage. You're really in two minds as to whether to like him or want to strangle him by the end of the play. Elizabeth Lazan and Zachary Ibrahim played their side characters wonderfully, embodying the roles to a T. Ibrahim's character didn't sit well with me, BUT I can totally see him acting out this sort of role for a living; he makes it look so effortless and natural. Lazan was a great up and down crazy bitch, so it was a little weird when she finally mellowed down at the end on the beach, and hard to believe she'd really moved on with Carter. Frances Lee was a very welcome new face to the theatre as well, and I really enjoyed her performance as Helen, which was very realistic, likeable and fresh. This is one rising star I hope to see more of in future productions, though I honestly wonder about the roles she can get cast in as a leading lady.Yup, Fat Pig's overarching themes reach out everywhere and fat people are still being discriminated against. But I really did like her acting and was crying buckets at her performance in the final scene.
Eucien Chia has stunned me once again with an unbelievably changeable and clever set that morphs from restaurant to office to beach, with so many pieces of pop up furniture hidden away. This man will never cease to amaze me and I hope, never cease to work on one of Pangdemonium's set design.
It's nowhere close to what Pangdemonium gave us with Rabbit Hole or Next to Normal, but it's a pretty decent play about an unconventional love story. Watch it if you are in or know of people who've been in unconventional non-society sanctioned relationships.
JustWatchLah Rating: 3.5/5
February 22, 2014
I'm not kidding when I say this play took my breath away.
I went to the show not quite knowing what to expect, and emerged in complete awe.
Having caught every Pangdemonium! production since February 2012's Spring Awakening ( my personal favourite so far ), Fat Pig comes a very close second - unusual considering my strong preference for musicals.
And since I already knew how the story would end ( thanks to Wikipedia ), my attention was concentrated on the actors.
And what an incredible cast it is! Starting with Frances Lee who plays plus-sized Helen ( the subject of the play's unflattering title ) - she is ADORABLE. From the opening scene where Helen charms Tom and he asks her out, Frances casts a spell over the audience and has us all rooting for Helen's happiness. I couldn't stop smiling whenever she was on stage, and even though I usually don't enjoy giggly females, Frances' infectious laughter felt like warm sunshine.
Next is Elizabeth Lazan who plays Jeannie, essentially everything anti-Helen. Willowy, graceful and sullen, in addition to being openly derisive of someone ( perhaps everyone? ) who doesn't fit her image of perfection. Jeannie obviously isn't meant to be liked, but she's definitely memorable! Elizabeth plays the "mean bitch" role fantastically, but stops short of becoming a caricature or being entirely beyond redemption. A scene with Jeannie and Tom alone in his office having a major fight after she finds out about Helen is priceless!
Zachary Ibrahim as Tom's brash and nosy friend, Carter, is a hoot! I don't know if he realizes this, but he acts and talks exactly like Vince Vaughn ( Wedding Crashers is a good example ). Carter's meant to be a show stealer, and Zach definitely does it effortlessly with his superb comic timing and spot-on line delivery. You can write a good joke, but say it wrong and it won't work. I couldn't find a single flaw in any of Zach's scenes, and his one dramatic moment - when the reason for Carter's disgust for fat people is revealed - is extraordinary.
Last but not least is Gavin Yap, who plays Tom. I missed his acclaimed turn in last year's The Importance Of Being Earnest, which according to director Tracie Pang, was a factor during the selection process. Described as someone who's multi-talented ( acting, writing, directing ), with vast experience in theatre, his mastery of the stage is clearly evident. In fact, even though the play's title is directed at Helen, Tom is the one who appears in every single scene. And consider this: the show spans 2 hours with no intermission, and Gavin switches gear every time he shares the stage with a different actor. As the show progressed, my amazement and admiration grew, because he absolutely nailed it - drama, romance, comedy.
p.s. He also exudes a major James McAvoy vibe ( he's 36 but looks 25 ) and intermittently talks like Keanu Reeves ( trust me on this, I'm obsessed with both :)).
The ensemble chemistry is off the charts, again a testament to the casting choices. Tracie Pang has performed many wonderful feats these past few years, but this - for me at least - is really one of her greatest achievements. :)
Compliments as well for the set design which added to the immersive experience. And does anyone agree that the DBS Arts Centre has much better acoustics than the Drama Centre Theatre? I could hear every word so clearly that night, even without any use of microphones.
Once again, Pangdemonium! has done an excellent job in choosing a thought-provoking script and bringing it to vivid life through a stellar cast and expert direction. Fat Pig delves deep into our souls, dredges up memories we prefer to forget, and illustrates the dire consequences of peer pressure in its most extreme form. Without revealing a huge spoiler - as requested by the cast during the curtain call - all I can say is what caused me the greatest sadness was Helen's willingness to compromise her own values, rather than what actually happens after that. To see a strong, confident character so utterly defeated is tragic, and if we can learn anything from this tale, it is that breaking a person's spirit in the name of conformity is absolutely unforgivable.
Many might agree that Helen should be loved in spite of her appearance. I say we should love her BECAUSE of it.
5 stars! Do not miss this. :)
The film version of this musical, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn ( featuring the voice of Julie Andrews ) is a perennial favourite, but never truly struck a chord with me despite multiple viewings.
Still, I couldn't pass up the chance to see the stage production, and now that I have, I consider it a much more enjoyable experience.
Featuring an accomplished American cast, gorgeous costumes and elaborate sets, I was enthralled for 2.5 hours, and practically floated out of the theatre when the show ended at 11pm.
Huge credit goes to the wonderful ensemble of actors, in particular, Aurora Florence as Eliza Doolittle, Chris Carsten as Professor Henry Higgins, Michael Brian Dunn as Alfred Doolittle and Ricard Springle as Colonel Pickering.
From the moment Florence sang for the first time - a beautiful rendition of Wouldn't It Be Loverly? - I was hopelessly ensnared. Her lilting, pitch perfect vocals are Broadway standard, and her protrayal of Eliza an absolute delight.
I admit I initially had reservations about Carsten as Higgins. Rex Harrison was tall and slender while Carsten appears more portly. The former's big-screen performance was also more distinguished compared to the latter's rather comical version. Nevertheless, Carsten quickly won everyone over with his powerful stage presence and impeccable comic timing. I'm An Ordinary Man - Higgins' joyous tribute to bachelorhood - made me laugh so hard! :)
Dunn blew us away with his boundless energy - Get Me To The Church On Time was an eye-popping display of stamina and fancy choreography - while Springle's gentle, funny Pickering added just the right balance to Eliza's distress and Higgins' rants.
The magical moment? That's easy - hands down, On The Street Where You Live, sung gorgeously by Daniel Cardenes, who plays Eliza's suitor, Freddy. When the character was first introduced at the Ascot race, I was a tad dubious because the actor ( no offence ) looked too goofy for the part. But the second he opened his mouth and those glorious notes poured out, I was literally in heaven! So was everyone else in the theatre apparently, judging from the raucous applause he received at the end of the song, as well as during the curtain call.
Something else I noticed during the show - the musical director / conductor having a jolly good time! I saw his side profile and caught him singing along on many occasions. Isn't this a marvelous way to live? Doing what you love every single day? Makes me want to quit my job haha. ;)
Thank you, Base Entertainment Asia, for bringing this to Singapore! We're hoping for Oliver!, South Pacific and The King And I in the near future.
A TheatreWorks’ Writers’ Lab Community Project in partnership with the South East Community Development Council
Marco Polo, on Hoping & Forgiving, tells a story of two blind friends who are reacquainted after death. They quickly discover that they are both still blind and proceed with their attempt to figure out if they ended up in Heaven or Hell. Amidst the uncertainty, they begin to understand what it is to be lonesome, fearful and utterly lost. As the friends try to recapture the emotions invested in the lives of the living and within oneself, they uncover a sense of hope and, above all, love.
Touring the South East District from 27 February 2014 to 29 March 2014
Have you always wanted to act? Or, perhaps, to direct or write for the stage? Do you know someone who's passionate about theatre and is keen to learn or hone their stagecraft? young & W!LD could be the perfect fit for you!
In April 2014, W!LD RICE will reboot its youth training division, and we're looking for enthusiastic, promising, dedicated individuals to join us on this journey of learning and discovery.
Led by Rodney Oliveiro and Serena Ho, this exploratory theatre programme will last eighteen months, during which time the participants will work together to put up three showcases of their talent and original work.
If you're interested in auditioning or if you know someone who fits the bill, do get in touch with us!
Interested candidates should submit their résumés, headshots and contact details to email@example.com by 23 February 2014 (Sunday) to book an audition slot on a first-come, first-served basis.
Auditions: 1 & 2 March 2014
All interested individuals must understand that participating in the programme requires an 18-month commitment that will cover three productions.
The audition is open to non-actors.
All interested parties must prepare one monologue of their choice, which should be at least three minutes long. (The monologue can be a published or a self-penned piece.) They should also be prepared for a short interview during the audition.
FAST FACTS: young & W!LD
Programme Directors: Rodney Oliveiro, Serena Ho
Course duration: 18 months (beginning from April 2014)
Training sessions: One three-hour session every week.
Depending on programme requirements, the frequency of classes might increase in certain months and/or in the run-up to productions.
Participants might have to attend extra workshops in the event that master classes are arranged that will be conducted by other instructors.