November 28, 2014

Monkey Goes West by W!ld Rice

Written by Alfian Sa’at, Music by Elaine Chan, Directed by Sebastian Tan

In an almost religious manner, I returned to watch W!ld Rice’s annual Pantomine, Monkey Goes West! On perhaps a completely tangential note, this was the first show that I am watching in the new VT. It was a rather nostalgic feeling returning to VT, but somehow that sense of nostalgia was disrupted by the fully air-conditioned foyer – losing the rustic feel of the old VT. But hey, I’m sure this building will now form the basis for many new memories for generations of theatre practitioners.

Firstly, the bad things first. I was actually the most disappointed with the music this time round. Elaine Chan (to me) has always been the one consistent composer in local musical theatre writing catchy showtunes for all her shows. However, I thought Monkey Goes West’s music was hugely different from the previous Elaine Chan works which I remember. Unfortunately, this was really one of the most unimpressive one  (My favourite still has to be the “Snow White” year). It was not bad per se, but I guess I really was not overwhelmed.

Second bad thing was Kimberly Chan. Not because she was lousy, but because she was unable to showcase her talent. From Wedding Singer, to Women in Asia, to even the random Octo-ber Fest Roasted, I have loved loved her voice and her bubbly nature on stage. But not only did she not get to showcase her vocals in this show (not impressively at least), her characters were sort of blunted. The irritating xiaohong, to the insipid bride of Pigsy, to the even more irritating Red Child… The excitement (and anticipation) when I saw her name in the cast list was rapidly extinguished.

Third thing was… the lines. I am not a goody-two-shoes but I suspect the production team was probably unaware of some of the non-english phrases used were rather vulgar. While the embedded adult jokes (mostly revolving around Sun Wukong’s growing rod – oh yes, it was so fun & easy) were passable (though not subtle at all), a lot of Wukong’s hokkien phrases were rather vulgar – and phrases that I would not want young kids in the audience to pick them up. Phrases like “lin nao hia” actually constitute profanities and perhaps the production team will want to clean up some phrases before putting up this children show?

The singing as a whole was… decent. The fight scenes could have been better coordinated to increase the realism… and the shadow play scene between Wukong and Ox Demon King was not very well executed for the finale battle.

Now, about what I loved. Which was about everything else.

The sets – OMFG. It was truly a visual treat – especially the golden pillars of the celestial court. Beautifully done. The underwater scene, impeccable.  The multiple costumes for the cute little minions acting as fish/fire/sea creatures/random 金童玉女 utterly adorable. Especially when the little girl passed the tightening headband to Tang and snapped “You don’t anyhow use ah!” – hilarious. Loved it.

Chua Enlai! I am usually not a fan of cross-dressing, because they can get a bit too campy (which many pantomines are guilty of). But I thought Enlai’s cross-dressing was natural and I liked how he never overplayed the “campy” element. After a while, it did not strike me as cross-dressing anymore. I thought he created a very lovable endearing female character on stage. His mispronounciation was mostly funny… though at the end, it was getting too frequent and monotonous (especially when they were always followed “Darling, you mean XXX” or “It’s XXX not YYY”).

Being campy was a specialty of this show’s director, but I thought he did very nice for this show. Sebastian Tan definitely showed me a new dimension of him. Kudos!

Lim Kay Siu was very cute when he was acting as the transformed Wukong. It is not often you see the serious mature Lim Kay Siu take on such a cheeky role. That was cute and refreshing. When he was acting as the transformed Wukong, I was actually fully convinced that it was Sugi who was acting as Ox Demon King.

WITHOUT WITHOUT WITHOUT A DOUBT, SITI KHALIJAH WAS MY FAVOURITE-ST ACTRESS. Everytime she appears on stage, I feel so happy. Whether she was Guan Yin Ma, or the random macik from downstairs, or the “Guan Yin Ma SOS” Sandy, she was an absolute joy to watch. REALLY. AWESOME. And her vocals were fantastic as well. I guess there is no need to go on about how wonderful she was. Cos she just was.

Sugie was prime-ape-ish. Though he was really kind of like the Sugie I know in person… so nothing too impressive there. This was my first time seeing Joshua Lim and I thought he was not too bad. I actually did not recognize Frances Lee from Fat Pig but I guess the pigsy character was not too lovable (the predictable requests for “break/meal/snack” was a tad annoying).

But overall, I had lots of fun watching the show. I loved how they got the rapport of the children (and some adult even) and broke the fourth wall often to engage them. I think shows don’t need to be high and pretentious, this “Monkey Goes West” had a simple (and somewhat “cliché”) theme: understand yourself and be yourself. But it was simple and earnest in its presentation and that made watching it a real joy. I would recommend this show to parents who want their kids to have a good time (and for parents to snigger at the adult stuff too).

Justwatchlah score: 4.25/5 

The Way We Go by Checkpoint Theatre

I usually post reviews fairly quickly, either the night of the show itself or next day. But I had trouble with "The Way We Go". I could not decide if I enjoyed the performance or not. And here's why.
Photos courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Chong Yew

During the show, it was easy to follow. The lines in the scrip were pretty good. Joel Tan has written beautiful lines, lyrical and poetic, sprinkled with that little touch of clever banter which elicits laughter from the audience every time. These lines, moreover, were played to perfection by the talented cast. Most of them were theatre veterans and all of them were fantastically wonderful to watch on stage. In fact some of the lines were so well written that I even heard Chinese DJs on ufm1003 quoting them. I was impressed.

The direction was wonderful I thought. The timings, entrances and interactions of the characters were evidently carefully crafted, and that was good. Claire Wong has always had a sharp eye for such things and I enjoy watching her shows as always. Lydia Look and her adoring neurotic quirks, Neo Swee Lin and her forever appealing auntie character, and Patrick Teoh’s pompous-yet-endearing not-so-angmoh Edmund Gomez. I thought it was really quite a power team.

What didn't sit well with me was the general direction of the play. It did not seem to be heading in any particular direction. I did not like the different scenes jumping around in time. The anachronic order treatment of a storyline is a bold decision for any playwright. If you already let the audience know the ending, you need to work doubly hard to keep them interested in the past (which is the rest of the show). Furthermore, anachronism  should not be a mere reordering of the scenes. The chronology of the scenes may jump around, but the audience watching this non-linear storytelling should still be "learning more" about the story. If the ending was already given first, that she dies and he feels remorseful, there really wasn't anymore in between that held my interest. In fact, while I enjoy individual scenes (with the witty lines), every time a new scene begins, I did a silent moan to myself (“why is it not progressing?”/”why should I watch the next scene?”)

The young pair of female lovers was also weakened by this script treatment. Very early on in the play, we see these girls having conflict with each other. Their lovey dovey moments was only subsequently revealed. That made it hard for me to accept that they were in love. Because in my mind, they started with tension and going backwards to show me the romance part could not demonstrate the love between the two.
Photos courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Chong Yew

On a separate note, I have always been very sceptical about gay characters on stage. Do they really need to be? In “The Way We Go”, I still cannot quite decide if they had to be both female? Somehow I thought the idea of a guy-girl couple making out in the female toilet (oh the male ego!) would have made an interesting scene (but then, that’s just one scene).

The stage! It was a fancy idea to have "hollow floor boards covered with cloth". The first few times the actors stepped inside, it added an interesting depth to the stage. However that novelty lasted for only a while. Because for the rest of the play, the actors were just trying not to step inside, circumscribing its periphery when walking on stage. This made their movement on stage very unnatural, somewhat clumsy :S

Alison had issues with the technical cues mistakes - which usually does not bother me at all. I'm tolerant of technical glitches, but I guess Alison's background made him less forgiving haha.

Overall I guess it was a fair production. I sat through the whole thing rather entertained. If you felt very confused after reading this post, unsure if I liked it or not, since I am giving a lot of wishy-washy points, that’s perhaps it was what I felt about the show. Objectively speaking, in terms of the literary value of the script, I must give it the credit. However, on a personal level, I really would have wanted something more.

Photos courtesy of Checkpoint Theatre. Photo credit: Chong Yew 

Justwatchlah score: 3/5