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Monkey Goes West

December 1, 2014

MonkeyGoesWestPic1(Photo courtesy of W!LD RICE Ltd. Photo by Albert KS Lim ©)

Event: “Monkey Goes West” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Victoria Theatre
Run: 21st Nov – 13th Dec 2014

West Side Story

As far as W!ld Rice pantomimes go – this is the 11th different one W!ld Rice has staged thus far – “Monkey Goes West” is probably one of the most eagerly-anticipated for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it christens the newly-refurbished Victoria Theatre by being the first local theatre production to be staged at the iconic venue, and I was ever so excited to visit the new “Old Vic” for the first time.

Secondly, “Monkey Goes West” signals a bold departure by W!ld Rice from drawing from the usual well of popular Western fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hansel and Gretel, and Beauty and the Beast, and choosing to look East instead and adapting one of the most universally-beloved Chinese tales of them all – “Journey to the West”.

Thirdly, this marks funnyman Sebastian Tan’s debut as director for a major theatrical production, and what better way to make a splash than on this year’s annual blockbuster pantomime.

As such, expectations were riding incredibly high and attending this year’s panto seemed even more of an event than compared to the past few years.

The opening scene was enough to take one’s breath away, what with the grand golden pillars of the Heavenly Palace and the unbelievably ornate costumes on all the characters.

The show was certainly a visual treat of the highest order, and it seems no expense was spared in the costumes department.

The score by Elaine Chan was understandably oriental in flavour, and the main musical motif of “Monkey goes West…” certainly does have a habit of staying in the brain throughout the entire show.

“No One Like Mum”, sung by Ah Tang (played by Joshua Lim) was a lovely, delicate number which melded beautifully with the Chinese classic “世上只有妈妈好”, but apart from that, I can’t really say there were any other tunes in the show which truly left a deep impression.

The script by Alfian Sa’at was commendable, considering the numerous challenges involved, one of which was in trying to condense an enormous tome into a two-and-a-half hour musical, and the other being having to find the suitable dramatic arcs in the story to fit a typical book musical.

And while the condensing part was executed well, the challenge of giving the story the requisite rising dramatic arcs proved to be more difficult, and “Monkey Goes West” ended up feeling more episodic than having a fulfilling storyline arc.

Nonetheless, there were the usual brilliant quips which we’ve come to expect from a writer of Alfian Sa’at’s calibre, although the bulk of the laughs came from the usual gag of having a character (Chua Enlai’s in this case) constantly mispronouncing words as something vaguely similar, but which means something completely different.

However, it is in the performances that “Monkey Goes West” truly leaves an indelible mark.

Joshua Lim proves his mettle with a solid portrayal of the straight-laced Ah Tang, and coupled with a fantastic singing voice, shows that he is one of the fast-rising stars in local theatre.

Chua Enlai and Siti Khalijah never fail to bring the goods, and were an absolute riot playing Auntie Fanny/Princess Iron Fan and Guan Yin Ma/Sandy respectively.

Any pantomime with the two involved is truly blessed as they give it that added dimension of hilarity and enjoyment which very few others can.

Nonetheless, it is the relative fresh faces which add the icing on an already marvellous cake – Sugie Phua, usually seen in Chinese theatre productions, with his pitch perfect rendition of the Monkey King with authentic tics and movements and all, and Frances Lee, whom I last saw in Pangdemonium’s “Fat Pig”, playing (ironically) the role of Pigsy with such relish and gratification.

“Monkey Goes West” truly deserves its standing in the annals of W!ld Rice pantomimes as one of the most enjoyable and memorable shows to date, if not for its visual spectacle, then at least for the sheer ambition and vision of the entire team in staging something as grand and as challenging as this.

Full credit to W!ld Rice for daring to dream up something like this, and for managing to bring the dream to fruition in a most delightful and satisfying manner.

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