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

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.