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

My Mother Buys Condoms: Love, Sex And Senior Citizens?

Can society accept senior citizens falling in love (and having sex)?

Imagining one’s mother or father falling in love with someone else in their 60s isn’t exactly the thing to whet up one’s appetite, neither is watching them ‘go at it’ in theatre the most exhilarating centerpiece act. Thankfully, the latter does not take place except for a harmless peck and some hugs.

One of 8 plays put up by W!LD RICE’s Singapore Theatre Festival, My Mother Buys Condoms examines society’s attitudes towards sex and senior citizens. Written by playwright Helmi Yusof and directed by Ivan Heng, the multi-layered play with a saucy title is already sold out (sorry folks!). Starring Lok Meng Chue, Remesh Panicker, Elnie S. Mashari, Joshua Lim and Seong Hui Xian, My Mother Buys Condoms runs from 14 to 24 July 2016.

The entire play takes place in Maggie’s living room. Maggie (Lok) is a retired 63 year old literature teacher and divorcee with two grown kids. Raju (Panicker), a 57 year old owner of a local air-con servicing company personally attends to Maggie’s house call to fix the living room’s air-conditioner. Strangely, the business owner does not have any employee to perform these small jobs. Egged by comic relief friend and fellow teacher Nora (Elnie), Maggie decides to strike a deal with Raju, giving him 10 English lessons in exchange for a new air-con unit. Raju promises Maggie a new air-con unit, “I will give you all the protection you want, satisfaction guaranteed“, cringe-worthy and as though signifying what is to come.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

“Mrs Lee, if you are in the room, I want to be in the room.”

Upon departure of her children and best friends, deafening silence sweeps into the set as Maggie takes a seat and stares at her book in the quiet of her living room, giving hint of her loneliness. Fast forward to the sixth lesson, Raju accidentally came into contact with Maggie when he laid his hand on hers to which the latter reacted by chasing him out.

Turns out, the two had feelings for each other but Maggie had to deal with her inner struggles caused by her ex-husband who told her that he couldn’t stand being in the same room as her. Raju replies “Mrs Lee, if you are in the room, I want to be in the room.”

The two reconciled and consummated their relationship as we were led to discover – bra and panty everywhere. What followed were a series of hilarious conversations as Maggie attempts to conceal the truth behind her buying condoms by accusing her Muslim friend of having a lover.

The conversations treads between funny and awkward such as when Raju exclaims that “The Japan one (condom) too small” and when Wilfred calls Raju a literal “Mother fucker“. It all goes into the gutters when Nora and Maggie’s children all discovers the truth about Raju. Placed between a rock and a hard place, Maggie was forced to choose between her family (conforming to traditional conventions) or love and passion.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

The intentions behind My Mother Buys Condoms were clear. Is falling in love at a ripe old age so wrong, or is it simply because of our own bias and perception that leads us to reject everything that does not go in line with our own beliefs? It is always easy to play the condemning figure, unless we are the victims ourselves.

My Mother Buys Condoms sings a similar tune to LGBT play where the playwrights asks the question, what does it take for society to grant (one and all) the freedom to love? In one scene, Maggie asks Raju (who has never married before) if he has never been with a woman to which Raju replies “Mrs Lee, I am a man.” This reply hints that Panicker’s character visited prostitutes or has had several casual flings in his earlier years, hence the need for condoms. In spite of this, Maggie loves Raju all the same because when love comes, it comes. And love is love.

Nora, Elnie’s character represents opposition of religion where romances of such calibre are considered harem (forbidden). Maggie’s daughter Gwen played by Seong was the only empathetic one, but only because she has secrets of her own – she is a lesbian. That was perhaps the play’s way of saying that only the marginalised understands the pain of the marginalised, when it shouldn’t be that way. I did however feel that inserting Gwen’s LGBT plot-line was unnecessary.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Maggie’s son Wilfred played by Lim with his ‘complete family with two daughters’ represents the majority of Singaporeans who would otherwise frown on such ‘immoral’ behavior. But is there an age limit to falling in love though? And should the opinions of others matter more to us than our own happiness?

My Mother Wears Condoms is a hilarious yet insightful take on romance and old age which I thought is so relevant to Singapore today than ever before as we continue to see increase in divorce cases between seniors age 50 and above.

What I could not wrap my head around was how a relationship could develop out of six English lessons and from a mere hand contact. I would also have preferred to see Maggie falling in love with a 20-something though. That would have been a real scandal. RW

Unfortunately, My Mother Buys Condoms is completely sold out. GRC and Hotel, the remaining two Singapore Theatre Festival plays are also completely sold out.

The Emperor’s New Clothes: A Treat For All Ages

W!LD RICE wraps up its ImagiNATION season with The Emperor’s New Clothes starring Lim Kay Siu, Benjamin Kheng and Sezairi Sezali.

Pantomimes are always fun to watch, especially a W!LD RICE’s production. Directed by Pam Oei, The Emperor’s New Clothes is W!LD RICE’s fourth and final production under its 15th anniversary theme; ‘ImagiNATION’.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Enter the dystopian yet colourful kingdom ruled by Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun. Emperor LBK is one egoistic, narcissistic ruler and has sanctioned the 49th NDP (National Day Parade New Dress Parade) in celebration of his good rule and well, new dress.

The music is playing and the little cheerleaders (First Kids!) are putting out their best performance for the Emperor. We didn’t have to wait too long to see the eye candies; Khairul No Surname (Singapore Idol’s Sezairi Sezali) and Nathan No Surname (Benjamin Kheng from The Sam Willows) on stage. They are the orphan-turned-tailors behind the cheerleaders’ costumes.

Our Emperor (Lim Kay Siu) makes his appearance, all bald and pompous. Much like our own NDP, the New Dress Parade also features performances by the children depicting how Emperor LBK brought the fishing village from ‘third world to first’ (sounds familiar?) and saved the country from the tyranny of an evil villain quite literally by the sound of music.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Midway into the NDP, a child performer (Anne-Sophie Cazaubon) performs a violin and vocal solo, drawing the applause from everyone, except the emperor who thought that she was “stealing my thunder”. She was imprisoned for ‘possession of drugs’.

Right after the 49th NDP performance, the emperor calls for his ministers to begin preparations for next year’s 50th Golden Jubilee NDP and his new dress (Singapore’s NDP preparation typically begins 8 months before, so it ain’t so different huh).

The national budget is blown (once again) by this year’s extravagrant tailored dress and next year’s NDP could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In spite of that, the ministers are chastised by the emperor to make it happen since they are the “highest paid ministers in the world”. Desperate, the ministers found their answer in cheap and exploitable local tailors Khairul and Nathan, owners of KnN tailors.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

The ‘brothers from another mother/father’ rallied and broke out into song and dance, celebrating their big break. They impressed the emperor with their speed tailoring and was advised by the Emperor to rebrand themselves as ‘KnN Costume Custom Bespoke’, KnNCCB for short (Laughs).

But all is not as it seems. The two discovers that the fashionista emperor that they adore can’t tell dog hair from fur and have been imprisoning citizens for unjust reasons. The KNNCCB tailors then decided to expose him with a dress made from a material so fine and exquisite that only the ‘most intelligent, clever and competent’ can see it.

Their plan almost go awry when Empress Janet (Audrey Luo) demands the tailors to try on the cloth (Kheng almost strips, don’t funk with our hearts damn it). A year later, the ‘big reveal’ was made ‘right in our faces’ and just like the original tale, everyone plays along until an innocent boy points out that Emperor LBK is really butt naked; further inspiring the ‘naked as my butt’ song.

But this is after all a pantomime for all ages and must end well. In the end, redemption and reconciliation was found with the emperor and his subjects.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

A world of difference from their previous production ‘Another Country’ (read my review here), The Emperor’s New Clothes features a gorgeous palace set by set designer Eucien Chia, and visually delectable costumes designed by Thailand’s Saksit Pisalaupongs and Phisit Jongnarangsin from the Tube Gallery.

The music was equally good too. Trust composer Julian Wong to come out with catchy vanilla tunes like the “There’s a Festival” NDP opening song, Khai and Nat’s “Brother from Another Mother/Father” bromance duet, and more.

As expected of a W!LD RICE’s production, no source material is off limits when it comes to scripting. Young playwright Joel Tan is the brains behind the witty dramatised musical.  Throughout the pantomime, the characters were on round robin; taking digs at the Motherland with witty one-liners and humourous satire often referenced to that of Singapore’s style of governance.

In spite of these, I found Oei’s musical a tad too lukewarm for my liking. In one scene where the tailors were explaining a certain fabric material woven and “washed by virgin’s tears”, one of the kids in the act asked “What’s a virgin?” The reply he got was, “Er.. Olive oil.” Great save there even if it was an intended reply.

While I get that W!LD RICE always seeks to challenge perspectives and status quo against the current political and socio-cultural narrative, perhaps The Emperor’s New Clothes is not be the right stage to do so. Pantomimes may be fun to watch, creating one that’s entertaining across all ages is a huge artistic challenge. Often, sacrifices have to be made to accommodate everyone and the result is a toothless, half-pass-six attempt for entertainment.

The kids from First Stage! were exceptional in their song and dance, perhaps too exceptional. In several scenes, Oei had the kids playing the younger version of the main characters, which were for me delightful at first, but distracting towards the end. I found myself watching the younger Khai and Nat dancing rather than the actual tailors Sezali and Kheng.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE by Albert Lim KS

 

Making their debut in a W!LD RICE production, watching Sezali and Kheng perform was as interesting as watching paint dry. Don’t get me wrong, both are immensely talented and delivered their lines well. Perhaps it was the kids overshadowing their performances, or the ‘cooling effect’ of having two equally talented artistes with similar stage persona performing side-by-side, I was left disappointed (because I was really looking forward to Kheng and Sezali’s debut performance).

On the other hand, it was the supporting characters; Empress Jeanette (Audrey Luo), and the ministers (Siti Khalijah Zainal and Benjamin Wong) who I felt shone in their roles. Audrey did a spectacular job as Empress Jeanette. I love her bilingual and very humourous dialogue delivered through expert acting. I love the charisma of Zainal, come what may she always dazzles in the roles given to her.

Ultimately, W!LD RICE should be credited for giving young artists and creatives a stage to execute their craft. During curtain call, artistic director Ivan Heng tells us that the talented cast is ‘all Singaporean’, which was poignant.

One idea that I really like from the musical was the ‘air-con dome city’ idea so that we can wear ‘fall and winter collection clothes’ anytime. The playwright must had heard the call of every Singaporean and incorporated it into the script. I bet the dome keeps the haze out too.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is not W!LD RICE’s best work nor the kind the theatre behemoth is known for, but an entertaining act nevertheless. Support local and catch The Emperor’s New Clothes at the Drama Centre Theatre. RW

Many thanks to W!LD RICE for the media invite.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 20 November to 12 December 2015

Following our smash-hit production ofMonkey Goes West, W!LD RICE puts a Singaporean spin on Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale about the ultimate fashion victim. Directed by Pam Oei, The Emperor’s New Clothes is a brand-new musical with a razor-sharp script by Joel Tan and a sparkling score by Julian Wong. Its stellar cast includes Lim Kay Siu as the Emperor, Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows, Singapore Idol’s Sezairi and Siti Khalijah Zainal – all playing musical instruments live on stage!

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $80

Web Link: The Emperor’s New Clothes