Review Singapore Theatre

Rant and Rave: A History Lesson

Singaporean theatre has evolved through the decades, much of it I was never involved in, not being born early enough. Not that it makes any difference to my enjoyment of The Finger Players’ “Rant and Rave”.

Running for 90 mins, and broken into 3 broad segments, the show gives a succinct recap of the formative 80s, the tumultuous 90s and the transformational 20th century of Singaporean theatre. Played by 2 amazing actresses, Arts NMP Janice Koh and veteran Karen Tan, both seamlessly weaving in and out of characters, with some characters played with such accuracy it brought a smile to my face the moment the character first appeared. I have to point out that Karen’s portrayal of Alvin Tan (Co-founder, The Necessary Stage) was so spot on that many members of the audience were heard giggling.

The one segment that I felt really strongly about was Arts and the Media. There are many times when I find that much of the arts community have this innate sense of martyrdom, and that they are quick to jump against what they perceive as injustice dealt to them, especially by the media. A recent memory was that of Straits Times Life! writer John Lui’s article where he commented about Ilo Ilo not going to be a box office hit in Singapore, despite all the winnings at various international award shows. So many theatre folks on my Facebook timeline went up in arms, calling Lui a fraud, a disgrace and whatever they can think of. The only thought I had at the point in time was, it’s just his opinion. Right or wrong, that’s up to the reader to determine. The industry complains so much about the government thinking that Singaporeans are stupid and not able to think for themselves, yet this incident shows that they don’t even believe Singaporeans are able to think for themselves and judge if an article has its merits or not.

Watching “Rant and Rave”, I feel really sorry for the art critics who are bashed, judged and scorned for their opinion piece. How can the practitioners expect their audience to have an open mind, if they themselves are not willing to give their audience some credit for having a mind of their own. I also do not believe in a comment that was made by a practitioner that basically judged theatre reviewers for their lack of understanding of the process of putting up a production. Why should they need to have that background or experience? Art is about what it means to the viewer, less so about what the director or scriptwriter wants to force down the audience’s throats. The reviewer’s job is to take his experience and put it into context for the person reading his article. A review is, in its very nature, subjective. The very nature of theatre is also the life it takes on its own, sometimes contrary to what the creator’s message really was. Different aspects of the same show will appeal and stand out to different people, and that has always been what makes theatre truly magical. Maybe, instead of snarling at the reviewers, we can take a step back and see how our works have been interpreted, and seek to understand the rationale behind the interpretation. It could even bring a whole new perspective to the show.

In any case, we have only been growing the arts scene for 30 years, I believe it is still too early to demand for maturity in all aspects. And that includes the arts practitioners, the critics, as well as the audience. All the major arts and cultural hubs around the world have had the vast history and more than half a century’s worth of evolution as their foundation and backbone. I also believe that all the challenges that the arts community currently face, will simply become fodder to continuously feed the public as we grow beyond fulfilling our basic needs of food and shelter, and seeking nourishment of the mind and soul.

“Rant and Rave” is on for one last show tomorrow afternoon as part of Esplanade The Studios Season 2014, and I recommend everyone to go catch it while you can.

Review Theatre

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Great actors, great script, great designers, great idea. Sounds like a sure-win recipe for success?

Usually that would be the case. However, it did not translate for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of the acts for Huayi 2012..

This play by Edward Albee is so poignant and, to be honest, so scary; much like what a friend says – a mind fuck. But it is a very difficult piece to translate to a Mandarin piece.. Though on one hand I commend Nelson for attempting this classic, on the other I feel it’s such a pity as each individual ingredient is awesome. The dish just wasn’t stunning.

The pace was slow and the building up to the climax was not forceful enough… The final revelation didn’t quite hit as hard as it should have. The intensity, the hatred and the helplessness of the characters did not cone out either.. My bench kept squeaking and moving, signs that people around me were feeling restless and impatient. The pauses that were supposed to be intense just further enhanced the slow pace.. I actually found myself staring at the lights and investigating the furniture.

I also find the absurdist part of the play did not come out as much as it should have. There is always a degree of absurdity in Edward Albee’s creations but this rendition became a bit too realistic, without any tinge of the absurd.

And I think my last complaint is that I don’t feel that the actors brought their A game to this performance. There were times where I cannot help but wonder if the actors are ‘having a moment’, or just spacing out…

Review Theatre


“Beauty World Cha Cha Cha!” “High Class, Low Class, NO CLASS!”

Who can forget these classic lines? Beauty World the musical has been with us 5 years after I was born. So 20 years after its creation, I was given complimentary tickets to watch.

Firstly, I don’t like the Esplanade Theatre. The stall seats are just as good as being on perfectly flat ground. It’s so steep that I was unable to see any action that was within 0.5m from the stage floor.. *grumbles*

I went in without any expectations of a good time actually.It was quite obvious to me before I stepped into the venue that it will not be good. It might pass, but it will not be one that stays with us for a long time. The cast list is pretty much good enough to tell all.

That said, I was fairly impressed by the set design. I thought it was intelligent and thought was actually put into the works and how the interchanging of the set flows with the rest of the play. There was a certain sense of period in the Beauty World cabaret style set but it could have been slightly better. The whole feel was more of a Moulin Rouge idea than 80s chinese cabaret. Slightly off but still good.

Lights was in general another good point in the play. Lulu’s follow-spotter was not very on-the-ball at times. There were a couple of spots that cleanly cuts a dark arc across the forehead. And that happened in scenes where she was supposed to be showing lots of emotion in her expression… A big waste that was actually. But I’m not really a lights person so I’m not really able to comment much on it..

Sound though, is a different thing. OH MY GAWD! I hated it, the sound cues, not the songs.. The band was placed at the back and on top of ALL the action. So much so that the conductor is totally unable to see the action on stage real life. He either had to use audio cues, or use his monitor which is super tiny. I know. I’ve seen it. I can’t see shit on that small little thing. So.. 90% of the sound cues were off. Especially the visual ones. Timing was horrible. Sometimes the music climax came after the actor had already paused in his act.. Like 3 seconds. Totally off. Bad.

Personally, and I think this applies to most industry people who watched the show, that the costumes were bad. It was totally off. I mean, this is a 80s Singapore Chinese cabaret, not Moulin Rouge. Yet 80% of the cabaret girls’ costumes were so Moulin Rouge, complete with sequins, glitter, shine, feathers, tassles all the works. *beep* Wrong era here. And my god the suits look like a really fashionable & modern cut! The only correct period costume was probably recycled from the old run. Which is Ah Hock, Ivy, Frankie & Rosemary’s. *shakes head*

My heart goes out to Daren Tan, really. He’s not a stage actor. He doesn’t even know how to act. Yet because of his fame as the winner of Project Superstar, he has to be thrown into this unfamiliar and really very unkind community. He simply can’t act. Not now. Not without training and experience. His singing is wrong. The wrong type of vocals. Pop singing and musical singing is really way off. Not everyone’s Pamela Oei or Gani. He was easily the worst of the lot, seriously. Not entirely his own fault but still… Reality sucks.

Elena, playing Ivy, really threw me off. She was much better than I had expected. Then again, she has the right musical theatre training as a foundation. She has the vocals and the potential. What she really lacks is the experience, which shows in her acting. There is a certain lack of sense of how you capture and enhance movements in accordance with the background music. For example, when she was sneaking around in Mummy’s room in her all-black catwoman suit, it would have been more interesting to see if she had followed the beat of the music. I’d like to use popping as a way to connect such movement acting. There’s always a certain place where you stop, usually at the hard beat itself. And the right amount of jerky actions combined with smooth moves accentuates what you are doing and makes your movements clearer. Plus you don’t have to do as many consecutive actions to get the same effect. And it looks better on stage. She really needs to work on her physical aspect.

Frankie, played by Dwayne Tan, was a lovely success. Totally without the image of Hossan Leong from the 1998 run and yet still endearing in his own way. “My a-ha-ha Ivy….” Didn’t know how it was apparently so hilarious that everyone had to laugh like mad dogs every time he sang that song. *grouchy*

The rest… Denise could have done better but the chemistry between her & the rest wasn’t there.. The showdown between Lulu & Rosemary was such a let down! Where is the vocal power????? Rosemary was tooooooo much Jacintha, she might as well have done it by herself. Irene Ang was hilarious as Ah Choo, spot on punch lines.. Swee Lin was charismatic as Mummy as well.. Ensemble was well, forgettable.

I wouldn’t pay to watch the show, even if it was S$10. But that’s just me. Someone else might have a different opinion.

Have you watched the play?


Mama v.s. Jack

I’m going into overdrive. I watched Jack & the Beansprout on the exact same day I bump-out for Mama looking for her Cat.

Mama’s the testament to what I always believe in. A small tight production team is always fun. Everybody knows everybody and everyone gels. Even if its just for that period of time. The tightness is still there. We can talk crap and make inside jokes where every single person will understand. Because it’s such a small team, the jokes get passed around fast. Not forgetting the show’s in Theatre Studio. Where the common area is right in front of the lift and there’s enough space for everyone to congregate there and chit-chat and hang out.

On the other hand.. The excitement, the thrill and the challenge of working on a large production like Jack & the Beansprout is always tempting. Not forgetting the money will always be better. The team will be bigger and usually more ‘star-studded’. It’s good for the resume. If you are a start-out. Like me. But in such a large-scale production, the relationships are strained. Cliques are formed and there’s always the politicking that I hate. Gossips, rumours, backstabbing etc etc..

But I miss the Drama Centre techies. Watched Jack last night and went out with Lynn, Hidayah, Pauline & the rest of the wardrobe gang.. Ismail was there too and we were thinking like the last show that I did at DC was last year Sleeping Beauty!!! That was about 1 year ago boy. Time really flies.

I’m waiting. 2 more years and my tuition fee loans will be cleared. Start saving now and I will be back in the scene very very soon. But now I need to learn. I’m like a baby who’s learning how to walk. But with very few practice sessions.

Resolution for the new year. ALL my annual leave will be used for productions. If I can make it. If I’m not on business trip. I have 16 days to make full use of in the year 2007.

Toi toi toi!!!!!

Review Theatre

First Family – July 7, 2006

Show: First Family
Date: 7th July 2006
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre

Director/Playwright/Set Designer: Chong Tze Chien
Lighting Designer: Lim Woan Wen
Sound Designer: Darren Ng
Costume Designer: Lim Chin Huat
Crew: Goh Guat Kian, Low Kah Wei, Jean Ng, Karen Tan, Ong Kian Sin, Claire Devine, Oliver Chong, Ang Hui Bin, Julius Foo, Tan Beng Tian


It was a show about loyalty and betrayal, about putting country before family, about a family who was once the apple of the country’s eye but suddenly finds themselves embroiled in a dark conspiracy to destroy them and all that they’ve ever believed in.

The idea is fantastic but the execution was, sadly, not on par. It’s just like 2 perfect parents, conceiving a perfect baby but somehow during the 9-month pregnancy & the birth, something went wrong and the baby turned out not-so-perfect. It could have been the blockbuster of the theatre scene in 2006.

I couldn’t really put my finger down to the exact thing that went wrong. The nagging feeling is that this show might just be The Finger Players’ worst show to date, after its new direction. The direction was rather loose and there were too many unnecessary breaks and repetitions, trying to show that the “little one” was the more loved and most pampered one in the family. The game of ‘Eagle and the Chick’ was way too long and scenes like this really brings the whole tone of the play down and every time such a dip happens, it takes them double the effort to bring the play back to its original pace & energy level.

Sound was somewhat off the night I watched. I tend to give Darren quite a lot of grace. He works hard and he’s 5 men in 1, tackling 10,000 machines at the same time. However, one has to let go when one can. Handling the job of 5 men by oneself will not make a show better. It might just crash it. Time is the only factor.

Speaking of which, one personal qualm I have with Finger Players’ so far is that they have been using the same designers for the longest time. Woan Wen & Darren are great in their own capacities but as a theatre company, TFP needs to be working with new people and getting freshness in their shows. For someone like me who has watched almost all their main season productions, it’s slowly becoming the same. I can walk into a TFP show and feel that this show’s lights & sound is not very much different from the previous one. It’s the same reverb, the same style of wash and the entire feel of the whole show is nothing very new.

It may seem that I didn’t like the show at all but alas, the truth couldn’t be further. I have high expectations and First Family didn’t march up that’s all. It was still enjoyable and there were funny moments like how the Prince’s kungfu master ended up being a regular of the bordello that the Mother used to work, so she learned all his skills. As usual, the shadow puppets were amazing, best of which was the perfect scenery of the country. The market, temple all came to life when the prince alluded to them. The sea practically swept me away.

All in all, First Family, though a overly lengthy 2 hours, was still a good way to spent a lazy Friday night!

Review Theatre

Furthest North Deepest South – April 26, 2006

Since I cannot sleep and I have an hour before I’m supposed to wake Noel up.. (Hmm… the clock on my computer says 7.05am… hmmm) I should be writing about Furthest North Deepest South.

Twice I watched this play. I liked both. I mean.. how can I not. Similar cast, same director, same script… Well, I guess some technicalities were better with a more seasoned set of crew.

Here comes the big but. This 2nd run is, in my opinion, too bright and cheery. I’m not saying it has to be melancholy and somber and dreary but the one in 2004 was darker, with a serious message wrapped up in some form of satire.

I couldn’t sense a similar feel of tragedy in the 2nd run. FNDS is a tragedy. That was how I felt when I stepped out of the ACM 1.5 years ago. It was a freaking tragedy that was trying to be a comedy, which successfully brings out the most of the tragic. A possible reason could be that there were more students watching it this time round, (I should know. The night I watched was like 90-10 in favour of students) if it’s too satirical they would not understand? Or if it’s too somber they’d all fall asleep?

Couldn’t compare notes very much cos they group of people I watched with were first-timers to this show. Obviously they liked it quite a bit. Just as I did when I watched it for the first time. Nevertheless, I was able to find Rydwan who had watched the first run as well. He, just like me, preferred the 2004 version. Maybe, just maybe, like he said, I’ve grown up and I’m thinking of the show in a very different way.. And also maybe, I’m comparing it to the first run. Re-runs are never, in my humble opinion, better than the first.

Of course I have to say I still loved some moments and some directions. And of course, 1.5 years later, my fave is still the Rolls Royce ‘logo’ in front of the ship played by Ms Universe

SA. Hilarious. Too bad not many people enjoyed or even caught the joke.. Sigh… And of course, again I almost teared when Cheng Ho finally admitted that he is not really a man and that he had spent all his life trying to prove that he is a man and can only come to terms with it like when Zhu Di is killed. Sad. And how alike that is to everyone. We try oh so hard to be someone else. We are always trying to prove to ourselves that we are not who we are. How many people can actually say that they have accepted themselves 100%? No. We are always faulting ourselves, even if we know we shouldn’t. Not that the Singaporean education + work environment is very much of a help…

The gahment should watch this. They should stop supporting mindless brainless plainly entertaining shows like Sleeping Beauty where the main and the only aim is to please & get funding. Truly educational and inspiring shows get minimal or no funding. What crap logic is that..

Anyway, I just digressed.. That is for another time, another blog.

Review Theatre

Longhouse – Feb 15, 2006

If there was a word worse than ‘disastrous’, that’d be what I’d use to describe Longhouse. Everything was just wrong! Nothing went well in the show tonight. I really don’t know if I should give them a break cos it IS their first show and I, of all people, should know that opening shows are always screwed. Anyway, I have to start my bitching somewhere…

It wasn’t very impressive. Interesting concept of using unsymmetrical gridlines to make up doors, windows, mirrors and leaving quite a bit to the audience’s imagination. Most of the ‘furniture’ was made up of old newspaper stacks which was intriguing at first but not fully made use of. It would have been even more expressive and meaningful if the newspapers actually made up part of the journey of the characters and not just some other bed or table or sofa… The bonsai thing was too ridiculous. If more branches poked through the empty spaces in the grid during the big sister’s rather dreary monologue about the character in her book, it would have been more symbolic. It is currently very flat and is simply a backdrop.. A dropdown back drop might have worked for this purpose. And if the upstage part fo the grid was smaller, I feel the contrast would have been better when the characters walk from downstage up, where the mother’s room was supposed to be relatively.

This is my biggest qualm of the entire play. I hate, absolutely HATE, plays with many blackouts. It spoils the rythmn of the whole piece, breaks the audience’s concentration and really cuts the flow of the story. And the lights are so unimaginative, no fun, no creativity at all. I can do just as well. What’s with the wash!? I feel as if I’m watching a Brechtian wannabe’s design work. This is definitely Dorothy’s worst work. Is Toy too poor to get coloured gels and moving lights and gobos???? At least some COLOUR would be appreciated. Something other than yellow and orange.

I think the problem is with the operator. I don’t know if this op is new or what but the cue points were wrong, there was no feel for the play, the music didn’t build up correctly. It was either too fast or too slow. It was as if the op was either sleeping or retarded or has bad brain-hand coordination.

Lines were fluffed and everyone overacted. Performance was over the top. Too much expression, too much angst too much everything. A little more subtlety would have greatly improved the overall enjoyability of the play. And I couldn’t catch 70% of what they were saying, especially the fighting parts.

I’ve come to this conclusion that Nelson’s best for acting. That’s probably about it. And stage acting to be more specific. The play was too loose. The momentum builds up and drops suddenly, leaving the audience hanging in mid-air gasping for breath. Not always a bad thing, but not for this kind of play with a moving-forward timeline.

Some funny parts but that’s all. Boon Teck tries to be sarcastic and ‘suan’ the government and politics but it turns out too contrived, it’s like having constipation and trying too hard to shit. When you actually do shit it out, you bleed as well. He’s not a fantastic writer as it is and this script is not helping his reputation. He should just stick to set designing.


letter to Krishen

Dear Krishen,

I miss you. I miss already. Melvin messaged me a couple of hours ago and told me you were gone.

I remember the first time I met you. It was my first rehearsal for “Prelude to a Kiss” at Action’s Room Upstairs. You struck me as this terribly old man who sits there, and not actively chatting up anyone. You were nice and warm when we greeted and had a nice handshake. I remember I was amazed by you, by how you could sit there and sleep but miraculously wake up when actors screw up or miss lines. So amazing. I remember too, that you were so calm when I was so panicky when the songs were not decided and it was only a few days till the bumpin. I’ve never done any show where the house music was confirmed only during the bump-in. And some of the show songs too. You kept telling me that everything was cool and you could work with anything we had. I also remember that ‘ritual’ of praying and feasting before we left the rehearsal space. Such an experience it was, when you talked about the spirits of the venue and how we were to thank them for letting us share the space with them and pray that they would protect us when we go to the new space.

I remember how you and Mac were quibbling over the lights. The one thing I remember clearly is how Mac would call you the “stupid old man”. *snigger* It was so sweet to see two long-time companions calling each other names but really knowing that it was all in good friendly jest.

The time you disappeared during the post-production party of “Prelude”and we had to search high and low for you. Bee Bee was so anxious. Haha. I also remember how you forced me to eat that chocolate cake for Caroline’s birthday. All my 20 years I never had a cake stuffed in my mouth before. >
And just when I thought I’d never have the chance to work with you again, I was roped in to do “Visit of the Tai-tai”. Yaay! I remember the warm feeling when I saw you again, sitting at the director’s table with your eyes closed. I could see that you were happy to see me again and so was I. “Visit” would have been doubly boring if not for you hanging around all night. We would fuss over whether you had a chair to sit, reminding you to take your medicine or not to take so much sweet things. I still remember how you always fondly complain that Juraidah treats you as if you were going to die. Sigh.

It was also fun going out for supper with you, Pauline, Vivianne and Ying Qi. Porridge at Chinatown! It was amusing hearing your recount of how you thought everyone didn’t like you during some old show and only knowing then that they were just afraid of you! Haha..

I’ll pray for you Krishen. I’ll pray even though I’m not a Christian or Catholic. I believe good people will go to heaven and I’ll pray.

Goodbye Krishen. Goodbye. I’ll miss you. WE’ll miss you. Goodbye.


Lots of Love,


Review Theatre

Pulau – Mar 9, 2005

Aiyo… Suddenly I watch so many productions at a go. Watched Pulau with KC today. Written by How Wee & directed by Adrian Tan. Actors are Judy Ngo & Edric Hsu. Ok. Descriptions aside, here’s my set of comments.

I thought the show was ok. As in, it’s a very How Wee kind of play. Sparse, episodic and very all-over-the-place kind of style. Adrian did a semi-Brechtian. The set was a very simple circle of sand with a big screen behind and TVs at the two sides. The show was rated R(18) but alas, except for a few cheebyes and a couple of KNNs… That’s all. What R(18)?? All the sexual scenes were like Edric trying to take of Judy’s bra clasp which was so obviously a sports bra.. >< And Judy masturbating back-facing us. Ah-duh… I’ve seen more rated stuff than THAT.. Anyway, that’s not the issue.

The main thing was the talk-back session. About halfway through the session, I regretted hanging around. It totally spoilt the whole experience for me. There I was, slowly making sense and meaning out of what I had just seen and there people are asking about wanting answers to the questions raised in the play. The worst part was when Adrian said all about how he was doing a Beckett and how the columbarian was linked to the HDB flats he showed on multi-media (which I disliked tremendously) and how some of the parts were purposely made as a remembrance to KPK (not to be rude or disrespectful, but AGAIN????? ) I felt a sense of losing as I was listening to all these questions and “answers”. Instead of gaining some insight into the play, I felt as if I had lost the crux of the matter and the main issue and the strand of thought. I had been deprived of the ability to think for myself, to allow myself to discover new things about the play that may add to my appreciation of it. Alas, the talk-back session effectively killed all that.

Judy’s acting was not bad. Pretty good. But I hate it when she contorts her face when she’s crying. It feels too over-acting and very fakish to me. Edric, sad to say, was the weakest between the two fo them. He was very stiff and fluffed his lines, though fluffing lines can be due to nerves. He was not captivating and often when it’s his long speech alone, he makes me feel restless and distracted.

All that aside, it was fun meeting old friends there. Was amazed & amused to see Terence though (almost didn’t recognise him at first ‘cos didn’t expect him to be at a CHINESE play). Never thought he could understand chinese. Hur hur. And I saw Qing Shui (I think that’s his name…) which was a pleasant surprise ‘cos I hadn’t seen him since the AJ CLDDS Alumni performance I think.

Review Theatre

Errorism – Mar 8, 2005

I can’t decide who I like better. Baobao’s or Zai’s.

Baobao’s piece was easy to understand. Well, maybe I am quite used to her style of presentation so I know what she wants to show when she does certain things. And the baby part just seems so familiar. Maybe she’s done something like this before, maybe it’s so much her style. But what I feel was not enough about her performance is that she could have pushed the audience more. There were certain parts where I felt a tug at my heart but it stopped at that. If Baobao went further, it would have made me cry. The emotion would have been deeper and I would have felt more for the piece. I like the comic relief and the sound bites though. It’s a good bite at those silly things politicians say about the Iraq war. However, the audience was a bit too cold. I mean, some of us felt that the MacDonald’s & Coca-cola parts were really funny, as well as the “It’s nothing like show business” song & politician part. But the only people who laughed or even giggled were me, Melvin, Yati & Seok Ai. Well, maybe those at the top did but WTH..

On the other hand, Zai’s piece was really abstract. He started off the piece by flashing a slideshow of the poem “To the Reader” by Charles Baudelaire. Then all he did was walk around the stage, went on the platform and basically moved in ultra slow-motion, sometimes smashing chairs, sometimes snarling and growling, sometimes romoving his clothes and touching himself. It made absolutely no sense at all iitially. The only thing was that the sound was deafeningly loud and because I was sitting near the sub-woofers, the bass made my heart thump ever so terribly. I swore my eardrums would burst if I sat there for another 15mins. I kept waiting. Waiting for him to do something. To show me some meaning of what he is doing. Anything at all. At the end of his piece, he finally went to the pot, which had water dripping into it from the grids and the sound captured with a condensor, took it up and drak the water that was dripping from the top. Then Yuen Chee Wai came over, both took off their belts and all he did was to drop the metal part into the pot, making a very loud and crisp sound. But the ending slideshow came and I finally understood what he was doing. He was simply re-enacting all that was written in the poem. And the root of all evil, it seems, is not money. It simply is BOREDOM.

Thanks to Mel who accompanied me to watch this amazing performance. And hello to Yati who I met there. Damn. Forgot to get hp number. Well, we’ll meet again. And hi again to Seok Ai, Kong Hui, Catherine, Heng Leun, Simin & KC whom I met there. ^__^