Monkey Goes West: Embark On The Happiest & Funniest Journey To (Jurong) West

Back to entertain audiences this festive season is arguably W!LD RICE’s most popular pantomime based on the famous Chinese literary classic.

“Monkey goes West, he must go to serve his sentence…” I left the theatre humming the infectious theme song of Monkey Goes West. Damn earworm! The award-winning play by W!LD RICE returns for a limited run at the Drama Centre Theatre from 18 November to 17 December 2016. Monkey Goes West is directed by Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, written by Alfian Sa’at, with music composed by Elaine Chan.

First performed to a sold-out audience back in 2014, the pantomime dominated the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards and took home Production of the Year award amongst a few other awards. The pantomime follows the journey of present-time orphan Ah Tang (reprised by Joshua Lim) who runs away from home and finds himself transported to the mysterious land where dangers abounds.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

As is the tradition for all WILD R!CE’s pantomime, the show opens with over-the-top song and dance, and spectacular set of heaven featuring its four golden dragon pillars. Fast forward to the present, we learn that Ah Tang is frustrated with his Uncle Mu (Darius Tan) and English-butchering Auntie (reprised by Chua Enlai) for their obsession over their talented medal-winning daughter (Kimberly Tan) and for seemingly forgetting his mother’s dead anniversary.

Deciding to reminisce the good times with his mother, Ah Tang visits Haw Par Villa and falls asleep there. Who would have a ‘good time’ in ‘hell’? Anyway, Ah Tang finds himself trapped after overstaying past the park’s visiting hours, further soliciting for help from the audience.

Forced to embrace his mistaken identity as Tang Seng the monk, Ah Tang travels with his companions, Wukong (reprised by Sugie Chua), Pigsy (reprised by Siti Khalijah Zainal) and Sandy (reprised by Frances Lee), the quartet goes on a hilarious adventure to Jurong West where they learn the importance of teamwork and family.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

What makes Monkey Goes West so fun to watch (and rewatch) is in its ability to entertain and delight audiences no matter how young or old you are. W!LD RICE resident playwright Alfian Sa’at is a master in his field; weaving in cheeky banters and ‘yo mama jokes’ for the kids, and throwing in – and updating – humourous and politically incorrect jokes which only the adults would be tickled by in the mix. I will not spoil the fun by revealing any of the jokes!

Undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most talented music composers, Elaine Chan incorporates Chinese musical instruments into the pantomime’s popular hit songs such as Monkey Goes West the main theme song, and Master of Disguise. I guarantee that you will leave humming the tunes like I did. The show was obviously created to impress, with its magnificent set and gorgeous costumes once again designed by Wong Chee Wai and Thailand’s Tube Gallery respectively.

It’s also hard to believe that the entire production only stars seven adult actors. Joshua entertains as Ah Tang and solicits crowd response from the children, while Siti puts comedic magic in every role she lands and as both butt-shaking Sandy and Guan Yin Ma in the case of Monkey Goes West. FIRST STAGE! Alumni Kimberly whose character performs a entertaining Flamenco (or Flamingo as termed by Enlai’s character) number on stage is the shining example of the success of W!LD RICE’s grooming programme. The programme has trained more than 250 children, providing them with firsthand experiences of acting on a professional stage alongside established actors.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Enlai is the king of comedy, entertaining the crowd as Iron Fan Princess and Aunty Fanny who butchers the English language exchanging words like ‘sensation’ for ‘menstruation’, ‘ovation’ for ‘ovulation’. Autny Fanny will also ‘zao geng’ a handful of times in the show – disturbing but hilarious! The FIRST STAGE! kids also entertained with their surprising Wushu techniques, trained by Gordon Choy. Everyone were on-point in their roles but in the end, the one who stole the show had to be Sugie as the mischevious legendary Monkey King with his acrobatics and engaging performance.

Laughing almost from start to end of the musical, I found it hard to part ways with the beloved characters at the end. W!LD RICE’s 13th pantomime, Monkey Goes West is the perfect example of pantomimes done right, even if it was centred around a Eastern classic. I love, love, love it. Many thanks to W!LD RICE and partners for the invitation to Monkey Goes West Gala Night. It was so fun and I wouldn’t have spent my Saturday any other way. Bring your kids, your parents and your friends to catch Monkey Goes West quick before tickets sell out!

Afternoon matinees are available on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Monkey Goes West

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 18 November to 17 December 2016

W!LD RICE brings the Year of the Monkey to a happy climax with its 13th holiday musical extravaganza for the whole family! Winner of ‘Production of the Year’ at the 2015 Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, Monkey Goes West is an affectionate and cheeky retelling of the beloved Chinese fantasy classic. Join us for an epic thrill ride that will take you from Haw Par Villa to Jurong West – by way of a colourful world filled with mythical monsters and naughty fairies.

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $80

Web Link: Monkey Goes West

Another Country: Exploring The Inseparable Relationship Between Two Countries

Directed by Singapore’s Ivan Heng and Malaysia’s Jo Kukathas, Another Country takes us on a trip through our shared memories and divergent dreams with the most provocative, humorous and unlikely texts.

Do you have a sibling whom you did love to hate? Whose character and yours’ is a worlds apart despite coming from the same loins? Welcome to Another Country, W!ld Rice’s latest Causeway-spanning production. Another Country runs in the Drama Centre Theatre from 25 June to 11 July 2015.

Connecting the dots between the two rival countries whose culture and values are conjoined in more ways than one, the two-and-a-half hour production was broken up into two segments; Sayang Singapura, a selection of 35 Singapore texts curated by Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa’at, and Tikam-Tikam: Malaysia@Random 2, a selection of 29 Malaysia texts curated by Malaysian playwright Leow Puay Tin.

There is a twist though. Instead of Singaporean actors taking on Singapore’s text and Malaysia’s actors on Malaysia’s text, the production had Malaysian actors performing the scenes from Singapore’s most iconic poems, novels, plays and writing, and vice versa.

Another Country by W!LD RICE - Photo Credit Wong Horng Yih courtesy of W!LD RICE 4 copyPhoto Credits: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!ld Rice

The show opens with the Malaysian actors reenacting the most recognisable scene from The Malay Annals where Palembang prince Sang Nila Utama spots the mysterious and majestic orange bodied, black headed and white neck breast creature whom he calls the ‘lion’.

Moving at a steady pace, the actors transit effortlessly from scene to scene, exploring some of Singapore’s most representative yet understated writings and stories. While national service is a stated-funded celebrated affair, there was a time where our boys tried all ways and means to skip national service via Petition to the Colonial Governor for National Service Exemption. Unlike our Western counterparts, we are known for our traditional beliefs and heterosexual standpoints. Even so, there’s more to the seemingly prim and proper Singapore than meets the eye in Michael Chiang’s Private Parts, exploring the dynamics of Singaporeans and sex-change in the city state.

Witness the infamous bribery of Malaysian officers in action, explore Singapore’s fanaticism to one-up each other through the lives of ordinary Singaporean housewives in Arthur Yap’s 2 mothers in a hdb playground, or hear stories from the other side (Lim Chee Siong) in Tan Jing Quee’s LCS: In Memoriam.

Another Country by W!LD RICE pic 1 (taken by Albert Lim KS)Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS, courtesy of W!ld Rice

Forget about the Man in White or the struggle for independence story for a while. Ditching the highly marketable ‘Singapore Story’ narrative that Singapore is known for, Sayang Singapura takes a hard look into the stories and events from the other side of history that make and shape us to who we are today. “It would indeed be a pity if we sidelined many of our stories in the service of a singular triumphalist narrative known as the Singapore Story”, as quoted from Sa’at.

Before the 15 minute intermission, audiences were invited to participate in a round of Tikam-Tikam (Malay for choosing randomly, also a common Malay game) to determine the sequencing of the Malaysian text to be acted out within the hour-long Tikam-Tikam: Malaysia@Random 2 segment curated by Leow. This also means that no two show is the same with the exact sequence.

Unlike the melancholy and seriousness in the Sa’at’s selection, Leow’s selection of Malaysia’s text was a more lighthearted and humourous one, perhaps highlighting the difference in tonality of both countries’ style of play and governance. Clueless to Malaysian texts, I was a little lost during the second half. But there were also several ‘aha’ moments throughout the show as the actors race through the various scenes in that hour. Didn’t Singapore’s text also have a scene from The Malay Annals? Why is The Chef’s Secret Chicken rice recipe being explained under Malaysia’s section ah? Wait a second, isn’t Emily of Emerald Hill a Singapore play?

Singapore Janice Koh’s monologue performance of a pork-loving toilet cleaner in curator Leow’s Ang Tau Mui hits a raw nerve and revealed the fundamental racial problem that plagues Malaysia till this day. I was particularly amused by Mark Teh’s Daulat: Long Live, denoting the common citizens’ satirical salutation and dig at political leaders in Malaysia which also reminds me of Singapore.

Another Country by W!LD RICE pic 2 (taken by Albert Lim KS)Photo Credit: Albert Lim KS, courtesy of W!ld Rice

Putting together a production piece with a combined total of more than 50 of both countries’ most acclaimed texts into a two-and a-half-hour show is not easy at all. But the immensely talented creative team from both sides of the Causeway made it look simple. The combined cast of Malaysia’s Ghafir Akbar, Sharifah Amani, Anne James, Alfred Loh, Iedil Putra and Singapore’s Sharda Harrison, Gani Karim, Janice Koh, Lim Yu-Beng and Siti Khalijah Zainal were phenomenal. Despite the varied intensity and emotions experienced across different excerpts, I found it easy to transit between the different scenes.

While the entire production felt like an extremely potent Rojah dish, I do wish that there was more time set aside to explore the rich themes behind the texts from both countries. But it’s a two-and a-half-hour show after all and something’s gotta give, right? Also, audiences who do not have any literary background or are not acquainted with literary texts from their own country might experience some difficulty in understanding the play.

As we examine the unique relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, we see two countries with a totally different present. Yet through it all, we continue to share memories through our deeply connected past which so thoroughly weaves both countries together. Yes, we may laugh at each other, but perhaps we could do with a little less (or more) seriousness, or to be more (or less) laid-back. If you are a literary buff, you got to watch Another Country for it will leave you wanting more. RW

Many thanks to W!ld Rice for the media invite.

ANOTHER COUNTRY

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 25 June to 11 July 2015

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $75

Web Link: ANOTHER COUNTRY