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Coming Soon: “The Effect” by Pangdemonium

December 24, 2015
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Event: “The Effect” presented by Pangdemonium
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Run: 25th Feb – 13th Mar 2016

2016 is Pangdemonium’s “Season of Love”, and they will be kicking things off with the Lucy Prebble play “The Effect”.

Official synopsis:

“Set against the backdrop of a clinical drug trial, this dark and edgy romance revolves around two young volunteers, beautiful psychology student, Connie (Nikki Muller) and charming nomad, Tristan (Linden Furnell).

Sealed off from the real world and monitored by two bickering doctors (Adrian Pang and Tan Kheng Hua), Connie and Tristan find themselves increasingly attracted to each other.

As the doses continue to double, so do their feelings.

Are their emotions real or merely an induced side effect?

Written by Critic’s Circle Award-winning Lucy Prebble (ENRON, The Sugar Syndrome), The Effect breaks down love to all of its composite sensations and questions how much control we really have over what we feel.

This existential and compelling piece has been called “deeply moving, both in its depiction of the giddy wonder of love, and also in its account of the terrifying wasteland of depression itself” by The Daily Telegraph.

A brilliant examination of the human brain via the heart, The Effect explores questions of sanity, the ethical minefield of neuroscience, today’s pill-popping culture and the nature of this thing we call “LOVE”.”

The play stars Linden Furnell, Nikki Muller, Tan Kheng Hua, and Adrian Pang.

Play Duration: Approx. 2hrs (with 15mins interval)
Ticket Purchase: SISTIC Link (here)
Pangdemonium Website: pangdemonium.com
Pangdemonium Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/pangdemonium

Geng Rebut Cabinet

December 18, 2015
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GengRebutCabinetEvent: “Geng Rebut Cabinet” by Teater Ekamatra
Venue: Flexible Performance Space @ LASALLE College of the Arts
Run: 9th – 13th Dec 2015

Inside Out

Teater Ekamatra’s latest play “Geng Rebut Cabinet”, written by Alfian Sa’at and directed by Mohd Fared Jainal, is a delightful contradiction of sorts.

It’s a play which tackles the often prickly and sensitive subject of racial dynamics in Singapore, but it is easily one of the most hilarious Alfian Sa’at plays I’ve seen.

It is set in a country which in all likelihood refers to Singapore, but the playwright cleverly turns things on its head by portraying Malays as the majority race, with a GRC of the incumbent ruling party having to field a minority Chinese candidate named Catherine Seah (Neo Swee Lin) as part of the General Elections requirement.

It is election season and tensions are running high, and the five-member Chai-Chee Commonwealth GRC team holds a meeting to discuss campaign strategy, led by its charismatic leader Roslan Jantan (Khairudin Samsudin).

There is the amiable, grassroots-active team secretary Zainab Halim (Dalifah Shahril), the not-uncommonly-seen army general fresh out of the armed forces and parachuted straight into politics Bukhari Ghazali (Fir Rahman), the successful big shot lawyer Maisarah Hamdan (Farah Ong), and of course, the token Chinese minority candidate Catherine Seah, a Chinese teacher.

At the onset, Catherine’s exuberance is regarded as nothing more than mere amusement for the rest of the team, and her eagerness to not only contribute but make a significant impact on the campaign is dismissed as sheer idealism, nothing more.

After all, her role as minority candidate is merely to fulfill the GRC requirement and keep her segment of Chinese voters happy.

However, as the campaign rallies begin and Catherine starts to deviate from the script and champion for equal rights for minorities and at the same time speaking out against majority privilege, the rest of the team realise that they have a crisis on their hands and close ranks to clamp down on this errant minority voice.

“Geng Rebut Cabinet” uses inverted reality to scintillating effect, and the pointed awkwardness of the inversion allows the play to make its points that much more effectively.

A Malay general? Hardly any Chinese fighter pilots in the air force? The Chinese population often struggling to keep up with their counterparts academically?

Its combination of near-absurd humour together with harsh irony make it so compelling, and its two-hour duration seems to fly by in an instant.

The play is also elevated greatly by the strong cast of five, with Neo Swee Lin playing it relatively straight while the rest of the cast, with Khairudin Samsudin in particular, giving riveting, offbeat performances.

Ultimately, Catherine Seah manages to somehow exceed expectations and help her GRC score the second best result in the entire General Election, but just when she thinks she is starting to gain any form of political traction, she ironically gets “silenced” by being designated the role of Speaker of Parliament, the first woman to be given the role, and a minority member at that.

This being election year, Alfian Sa’at manages to recapitulate some of the salient political talking points, such as the redrawing of election boundaries, the way the incumbent party attacks the credibility of the opposition, and the internal workings of the incumbent party political mechanism.

At the same time, he raises many difficult questions about race in Singapore, some of which might not come as too out-of-the-blue if you have been following his Facebook page musings for some time.

In the playwright’s own words: “I have never thought of race as a ‘sensitive topic’. To me, race is sensitive only when we lack a language to talk about it.”

And in “Geng Rebut Cabinet”, he has certainly given us a medium to talk more about it.

Coming Soon: Geng Rebut Cabinet

December 8, 2015
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GengRebutCabinetEvent: “Geng Rebut Cabinet” by Teater Ekamatra
Venue: Flexible Performance Space @ LASALLE College of the Arts
Run: 9th – 13th Dec 2015

Opens Tomorrow!

Official Synopsis:

“Teater Ekamatra is proud to present “Geng Rebut Cabinet” (“GRC”), a brand new play written by celebrated playwright Alfian Sa’at, directed by Mohd Fared Jainal.

The play examines what it means to be a minority in a topsy-turvy farcical world where the disempowered are now empowered, where the invisible now have their faces plastered everywhere-especially during the campaign season.

Who defines whether someone is a member of a minority?

Who sets the standards for a ‘model minority’ and a ‘problem minority’?

And are some countries ready for a minority Prime Minister?”

Play Duration: Approx 90 mins
Ticket Purchase: SISTIC Link (here)
Event Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/events/1774518746108851
Teater Ekamatra Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/TeaterEkamatra

The Emperor’s New Clothes

November 24, 2015
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EmperorsNewClothes1(Photo courtesy of W!ld Rice, by Albert Lim KS)

Event: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” presented by W!ld Rice
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 20th Nov – 12th Dec 2015

Underneath Your Clothes

There are few theatre traditions in Singapore quite like the annual W!ld Rice pantomime, and considering this is the 12th pantomime being staged in the company’s 15-year history, it certainly has come a long way.

We’ve seen their takes on classic fables like Cinderella, Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack and the Beanstalk, almost all of which feature full-length original scores, which is an incredibly impressive feat if you think about it.

Last year’s “Monkey Goes West” was memorable for being the first local theatre production being staged at the newly-reopened Victoria Theatre, plus the fact that it drew from the well-known Chinese epic tale instead of the usual Western fare, replete with gorgeous oriental elements.

This year sees W!ld Rice taking on the beloved though somewhat structurally tricky Hans Christian Andersen tale of the vain Emperor who gets duped by two swindlers into believing that they have spun him the world’s finest yarn.

I say structurally tricky because the original version describes how the two swindlers simply waltz into town and begin their grand scheme of deception, sucking up all the money given to them by the exceedingly vain Emperor, and eventually succeeding in presenting the Emperor with his final outfit for the procession, which is nothing more than thin air.

The lack of any discernible dramatic arc, and more importantly, the lack of any particular protagonist(s) in the original story would have made for a rather boring and uneventful pantomime.

While playwright Alfian Sa’at’s challenge last year was in condensing the enormous wealth of content from “Journey to the West” into a two-and-a-half hour musical, playwright Joel Tan’s challenge in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was to adapt the story into a more conventional musical plot, and he does a great job of it.

Popular artistes Benjamin Kheng and Sezairi play Nathan and Khairul respectively, who, instead of being con men, are in fact the true protagonists of the play – industrious, noble tailors who aspire to become successful fashion designers one day.

Their hands are forced when they are ordered by Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun (Lim Kay Siu) to design his official outfit for the kingdom’s 50th National Dress Parade, and after discovering the deep dark secrets the Emperor hides in the dungeons deep beneath the castle, they plot to teach the Emperor a lesson he would never forget.

The tale is set in a somewhat dystopian kingdom just before its 50th birthday, where a conceited Emperor rules the roost, having a penchant for throwing journalists into prison, as well as detaining dissenting citizens without trial.

He rules with an iron fist, and does not hesitate to ban anything that detracts from the citizens’ adoration of his being.

Playwright Joel Tan throws in many subtle references which leave no doubt as to what he is referring to (“Operation Plectrum”), while demonstrating fine wordplay in other instances (“treason” vs “the reason”).

The set by Eucien Chia screams Spider-Man, with a skyward perspective of tall, dark, foreboding skyscrapers, while the costumes by Tube Gallery are a riot of gaudy, neon colours.

The score by Julian Wong is a sophisticated mix of sounds, with only a band of three musicians on stage, as almost every actor in the cast eventually plays one or more instruments live on stage.

Of all the musicals I’ve ever been to, this is the one musical which I’ve seen the most actors actually play their various instruments live while performing their roles, and this is reason enough to watch the show.

Who would have known that Lim Kay Siu plays a mean violin, that Seong Hui Xuan and Audrey Luo are equally fluent on the ivories, and that Benjamin Wong is such a charmer on the flute?

In terms of the songs, “Brother From Another Mother” early in the first act is probably the most memorable of the show’s tunes, with Benjamin Kheng and Sezairi establishing their thicker-than-water ties while both on acoustic guitars, with melody and harmonies reminding me a lot of early Simon & Garfunkel.

Dramatically, I felt the showstopper was the song “Perhaps” midway through the second act, which beautifully portrayed the inarticulate tension between the Emperor’s wife (Audrey Luo) and the Emperor himself.

It was lyrically and musically moving, with great delivery by the two actors, and in my opinion this moment itself was worthy enough of the price of admission, although it is a slight pity that the relationship between the Emperor and his wife was not even more fully developed throughout the musical.

This is as strong a supporting cast as you’ll ever find in local theatre, with actors like Seong Hui Xuan, Candice De Rozario, Benjamin Chow, and Andrew Marko all doing a great job with their various roles, while Benjamin Wong truly stood out for me as one of the stars of the show, with outstanding presence and expert musicianship.

While Sezairi’s enthusiasm was infectious even amidst a cast as strong as this, it was Audrey Luo who once again steals the show as Empress Jeanette How, being given a far more substantial role as compared to her last show “Chinglish”, thus allowing her to fully showcase her tremendous comedic chops.

I struggle to think of another actress who could have done a better job than her in this role.

The show bears the familiar trademark of past pantomimes in trying to garner as much audience participation as possible, although I felt that some elements such as the chant which was taught to the audience at the start of the show, as well as the part where the audience was taught to hum to the tune of “Let It Go” came across as somewhat contrived.

In many respects, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a testament to how far the W!ld Rice pantomime has come.

It isn’t afraid to take on challenging material, adapt it to a local context, and give it the familiar W!ld Rice treatment, filling every aspect of the show with exceptional talent from the directing, writing, composing, designing and eventually to the performing.

The cliché is so well-worn by now, but it truly is a testament to the magic of theatre when so many talented individuals of various abilities are brought together by a director (Pam Oei) to come up with a show as enjoyable and as spectacular as this.

This is W!ld Rice at its fashionable best.

Coming Soon: The Good, the Bad and the Sholay

November 24, 2015
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Event: “The Good, the Bad and the Sholay” by Checkpoint Theatre
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 26th – 29th Nov 2015

Opens Thursday!

Official Synopsis:

“In this fast and ever-changing world, what is constant?

The 1975 Bollywood classic Sholay, with its thrilling exploits of outlaw heroes and high-stakes emotion, provides the backdrop for this profoundly humorous coming-of-age story that chronicles Raghav’s journey from boyhood in the small Indian city of Ambala to the metropolis of Singapore.

What do we lose in the name of progress?

And what happens when we finally let go?

The Good, the Bad and the Sholay deftly captures the joys and sorrows of growing up and the changes that come with each stage of life.

First staged in 2011 by Checkpoint Theatre, The Good, the Bad and the Sholay received three nominations at The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards for Best Original Script, Best Director, and Production of the Year.

Playwright Shiv Tandan joins Huzir Sulaiman in directing this new staging.”

Show Duration: Approx. 90mins (without intermission)
Ticket Purchase: SISTIC Link (here)
Checkpoint Theatre Website: checkpoint-theatre.org
Checkpoint Theatre Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/checkpointtheatre

Peter Brook’s “Battlefield”

November 20, 2015
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Event: Peter Brook’s “Battlefield” presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre
Venue: Capitol Theatre
Run: 17th – 21st Nov 2015

War and Peace

Legendary director Peter Brook revisits one of his seminal productions, the epic nine-hour staging of “The Mahabharata” 30 years ago, but this time in the form of a condensed 70-minute epilogue focusing on the epic battle at the end of the revered Sanskrit text.

The production first opened in the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, Peter Brook’s long-time theatre home, and made its international premiere here at our Capitol Theatre, after which it will travel to London, Sydney and Tokyo.

While The Mahabharata is a sweeping epic of over 74,000 distinct verses, making it one of the longest poems in the world, “Battlefield”, adapted and directed by both Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, tells of the blind King Dhritarashtra, who cedes power to his eldest son Yudhishthira in light of the aftermath of a great war.

The war has been won, but as the family begins to count its cost, it begins to realise that victory seems to bears the bitter taste of defeat.

How much have they really achieved?

And at what cost?

The stage is a startlingly bare one, with nothing more than a few sticks in the background, while musician Toshi Tsuchitori plays a lone drum which serves as soundscape throughout the entire play.

We are introduced to the old King Dhritarashtra (Sean O’Callaghan) and his wife (Carole Karemera), their son Yudhishthira (Jared McNeill), and the wise adviser Krishna (Ery Nzaramba).

Along the way, short fables are intertwined into the proceedings, telling of anecdotes involving a pigeon and falcon, a worm, a mongoose, and the like.

The fables are at times quirky and at times unsettling, adding great colour to the script.

The plot is essentially a very straightforward one, with the bare, stripped-down staging challenging the viewer to focus on the purity of the actors’ delivery of their lines.

Toshi Tsuchitori controls the pacing and tension in the play expertly with the beat of his drum, although I felt the extraordinarily bright “Exit” signs on each side of the Capitol Theatre stage served to diffuse the viewer’s visual focus considerably, thus taking away from the intense nature of the proceedings.

Perhaps the DBS Arts Centre – the spiritual home of the SRT – might have been a better choice of venue for this production, although it definitely would not have been able to accommodate as many people.

While director Brook coaxed out immense performances from the cast of four, Ery Nzaramba managed to stand out for his effervescence and versatility.

“Battlefield” is ultimately a sombre meditation on the atrocities of war and finding inner peace within one’s self in light of the sense of pain and loss.

In many ways it reminds me of “The Spirits Play” staged by The Finger Players just two weeks ago, Kuo Pao Kun’s take on the unbearable horrors of war and the profound impact it has on all the survivors.

“Battlefield” is a true testament to the power of theatre, and it is remarkable what magic can be achieved by just four actors, a solo musician, deft directing, and a powerful script.

Coming Soon: Peter Brook’s “Battlefield”

November 13, 2015
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Event: Peter Brook’s “Battlefield” presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre
Venue: Capitol Theatre
Run: 17th – 21st Nov 2015

Opens Next Tuesday!

Legendary theatre titan Peter Brook, known for his famous 9-hour “Mahabharata”, has chosen to take the epic battle at the end of this revered piece of literature and make it a stand-alone play.

Peter Brook is probably the most famous director in the world – a true titan of theatre.

30 years ago, he staged a nine hour production of the Indian epic, “The Mahabharata”, which has become one of the seminal works of the 20th century.

Now, at the age of 90, Peter Brook will explore the last chapter of that epic as a stand-alone play.

This new play “Battlefield”, co-commissioned by the SRT, premiered at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris in September 2015, and will make its international premiere at the Capitol Theatre from 17th to 21st November before going on a world tour.

In 2013, SRT in collaboration with Esplanade, brought in “3 Titans of Theatre” – Simon McBurney, Yukio Ninagawa and Peter Brook’s production of “The Suit”.

Show Duration: Approx. 1hr 30mins
Ticket Purchase:
SISTIC Link (here)
SRT Website: www.srt.com.sg
SRT Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/singaporerepertorytheatre

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