Monday, September 16, 2019

Beyond words .. My Review of Emily of Emerald Hill 2019

Earlier this afternoon, I watched W!ld Rice’s latest adaptation of “Emily on Emerald Hill” at the newly opened Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ W!ld Rice Funan. Emily was played by Ivan Heng. As you may already know, Emily on Emerald Hill is written by playwright Stella Kon which tells the story of a Nonya at different stages of her life: as a young girl, a young wife, a loving mother and dignified grandmother. These stages of her life are acted out by a single cast member through a 2-hour monologue, which takes you through a myriad of emotions. Emily on Emerald Hill is one of the most well-known plays in the region with countless of retellings by theatre stalwarts such as Margaret Chang, Neo Swee Lin, Pearly Chua, Karen Tan and Ivan Heng. I have watched this play acted by Ivan Heng in 2011, Karen Tan in 2015, Pearly Chua in 2017 and Ivan Heng again in 2019. Each time I saw it, they were very good and different in its own way, but this 2019 version was really special.

Firstly, I must say that this new venue is world-class. The intimacy and closeness of the audience to the stage is beyond anything available in the region. I was seated in the front row and the stage was only an arm’s length away. This closeness enabled Ivan to interact with the audience in ways I have never experienced before. Ivan didn’t just break the proverbial ‘fourth wall’, he demolished it and put a glass door!! Several times during the performance, he interacted with the audience so that the audience felt like they were part of Emily’s life and not just someone looking in. I was extremely lucky to be called to stand up earlier and I felt so happy to be a part of the production. Due to the superb sound staging and acoustics, every footstep, every swish of the baju kebaya and most importantly every little change in Ivan’s tone can be heard and felt so clearly. The costumes used today were beautiful and all the bling on Ivan … WOW !!!

emily reszied PR1

Next,… Ivan Heng. What can I say about Ivan Heng that has not been said and published by countless of international theatre reviewers? Through the years of experiencing Ivan, I have run out of superlatives to describe how good he is. (Some of you readers may be thinking what a fanboy I am. I believe in giving credit where it is due.) Only two actors in Singapore can perform such magic on stage, Adrian Pang and Ivan Heng. Ivan Heng’s portrayal of Emily in 2011 was very good, this time, it was mesmerizingly perfect. His ability to emanate the emotions of joyous elation, enthusiasm, anger and sorrow is second to none. Remember that there are no other cast members but himself. Backdrop, props, lighting are all a small part of this play, 90% of the experience was down to Ivan. Every raise of his eyebrow, every flick of his finger, every shake of his hips, every step he takes is just spot-on. His acting had the audience in a trance, controlling their every emotion, from heart-wrenching sorrow to joy and laughter.

As a bonus at today’s performance, we were taught several important lessons. One was on ‘theatre etiquette’ and the other, the recipe for ‘Babi Buah Keluak.’ As we often experience during theatre performances here in Singapore, there will be a handful of the audience who come late to the performance and those who use their handphones during the show to take a photo. During today’s show, they were called out by Ivan. I am glad that theatre practitioners and artists nowadays call them out because this lack of respect has gone on for too long and theatre goers must learn to respect the cast and the majority of the audience who are on time (at least 15 minutes before the show) and what it means by ‘keep your mobile phone.’ The ‘punishment’ was done in good humour but I think they will never be late again.

The extraordinary atmosphere (due in no small part to the W!ld Rice theatre), inspired imagination and direction of Glenn Goei and Ivan Heng’s flawless acting has made this production an exceptional masterpiece. As 'instructed' by Ivan today, "a memory is not a photo taken by a camera, but more importantly it is something you remember in your mind and in your heart." 

As I conclude this, I cannot help but think of the words of the late P. Ramlee, immortalised in “Getaran Jiwa” as the most apt description of my Emily on Emerald Hill 2019 experience - 

Getaran jiwa melanda hatiku (Soul vibration hits my heart)
Moga dapat membangkitkan (Hope it could touch you)
Sedarlah akmu wahai insan (You have to realise)
Tak mungkin hilang (Will not be lost)

Thank you W!ld Rice for touching my heart and the hearts of thousands... you truly deserve the ovations...


Emily on Emerald Hill will be showing from the 4 – 28 September 2019 at The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre @ W!ld Rice, Funan. As of time of writing, tickets are extremely limited and or sold out already. My advice is to check regularly (every hour) on the W!ld Rice Facebook page and hope / pray that additional shows are added.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Sudah-Lah .. NOT !! .. My Review of Hossan-Ah 50! Love you Leong time!

Greetings and salutations to all of you. It has been two years and 9 days since I last wrote my last review on Army Daze 2. Due to work and personal commitment, I went into semi-retirement from this blog. Over that period, I went for Phantom earlier this year (pretty bad), Pangdemonium’s ‘This is What Happens to Pretty Girls’ (superb) and ‘Broadway Beng 2019’(good). However, I have decided to come out of my hiatus because of Hossan Leong’s ‘Hossan-ah-50 – Love you Leong time.’

Firstly, I must say that I was very lucky to be able to get tickets for this show. As of the time of writing, tickets for the remaining two shows have already been sold out. Sorry Hossan that I couldn’t give you my 5-star rating earlier as I could only get tickets for the 29/8/19 show. (as though Hossan is going to read this !!!) For those who couldn’t get tickets, I must say that you have missed out BIG TIME !!

At 50 years old, I must say that Hossan is still very energetic. He performed for almost two hours straight without any break or interval. He sang, played the piano, did his stand-up comedy routines full of his typical gusto and charm. Everything he did on stage was excellent. His singing was wonderful and his jokes had the entire drama centre laughing off their seats. The timing of his jokes coupled with his actions / facial expressions and improv skills were spot on. All totally new material. I have not laughed so hard and much at any show ever. In fact, I think this must have been the best comedy show I have seen by a local artiste ever !! Hossan must have really gone through a lot of planning and preparation for this show. During the widely-acclaimed ‘princess segment’ even the videos flashed against the backdrop were all carefully scripted to extract maximum laughter from the audience. If there was anything to complain about this show, it was that two hours of Hossan was not enough. It was as close to a perfect performance by Hossan as possible.

It is kinda sad that he has decided to cut back on his solo performances and instead move on to other challenges. I for one will surely miss him and I am very sure many, many in Singapore will miss him greatly. Thank you Hossan for this wonderful show. You are sure-as-hell not a ‘has-been.’ It is because of artistes like you that I happily do this. Hope to laugh with and/or at you again very soon. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

I still want my Kuih Chang ... my preview of Grandmother Tongue

There is a lot of evidence that a particular language has a strong impact on its culture and vice versa. Language refers to the words used, the sentence structure, intonation of words and etc. For the Chinese people especially here in Singapore and Malaysia, the Chinese language is split further into the various dialects of Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka and Mandarin. It is extremely fascinating to see how words and structure and tone are associated to the common seen traits of their respective cultures.

I have been attending intensive Japanese language courses the past few months and knowing a bit of the Japanese culture has greatly helped me in the understanding of the Japanese language. For example, the Japanese people are generally known to be extremely polite and respectful. They are also known to talk rather softly (unless there is too much sake). One may easily get confused and conversations may get a bit long-winded due to the Japanese cultural need to avoid being direct and be perceived to be rude. But these are the nuances which we accept as part of their culture.

Another example of the close intertwining of language and culture is the Peranakan or Baba Nonya people. The language is mainly Malay with a generous splattering of Hokkien, English, Portuguese, Dutch and Tamil. This is because the Paranakans originated from Malacca and Penang during the colonial days in Malaysia. They were originally Chinese in descent but due to interracial marriages with Malays, Europeans and Indians in those times, the Peranakan culture was born. An example would be the words ‘kuih chang’ which is a combination of a Malay and a Chinese word. This perfectly exemplifies the Malay-Chinese culture of the Peranakans.

Sorry for the LONG introduction but this brings us to the upcoming play by W!ld Rice called Grandmother Tongue. This was written by Thomas Lim who wanted to show the close inter-relationship between a language and its culture. Thomas Lim wants to show via conversations and interactions between a grandmother and her grandson the Teochew culture. This play was last shown at the 2016 Singapore Theatre Festival and tickets were sold out weeks before the performance. Tickets to additional shows were also sold out weeks before. This show promises to bring on the laughter, tears and the lightbulb moments (sometimes all at once). The 2017 production is again directed by Thomas Lim with a tiny cast of 3 people. The show runs from the 28th September to the 21st October and will be held at the SOTA Studio Theatre. The latest information I got from W!ld Rice is that tickets for all the shows have been sold out. However, they may be adding more shows. So in order get tickets, kindly email to with your name, contact number, choice of performance dates and number of tickets. They will then contact you should seats open up or should there be additional shows. Also don’t worry if you do not understand Teochew. There will be surtitles in English and Mandarin. QUICKLY EMAIL THEM !!

I really hope that W!ld Rice will find a way to add more shows because I think it is very important for us to remember and treasure our culture. The Chinese dialects are quickly disappearing as the younger generation is focused only on languages they learn at school and not at home. With the disappearance of the language comes the disappearance of the culture. I for one will surely be very upset when ‘kuih chang’ disappears. I will surely be watching this as my Grandmother’s tongue is ... Teochew… 

Monday, August 21, 2017

In a Daze ... my review of Army Daze 2

I watched Army Daze 2 last Saturday at the Drama Centre. I was quite psyched up about Army Daze 2 as this is SG50, music composition done by Don Richmond, all star cast .. and hey it is Army Daze .. what can go wrong?

This show shared the same problems with the show ‘High Class’ several years ago. Music was excellent – catchy and upbeat, the humor was kinda there, large and beautiful sets, lots of fade in – fade out transitions between scenes, a strong cast but not much character development and no depth. In this show we had the likes of Chua Enlai, Shane Mardjuki, Hossan Leong and Jo Tan. These are easily within the top ten local entertainers in Singapore today. Chua Enlai only brought on the laughs with Hokkien Rhapsody. All other times he was just reciting lines. Shane Mardjuki did a decent job as the colorful Kenny Pereira but again he was just ‘colorful.’ Hossan Leong was a shadow of himself as Malcolm Png. Usually Hossan can make the crowd cry with laughter with just a flick of his finger but in Army Daze 2, just a bit of giggles and laughs here and there. Jo Tan was the only one who was funny in the show. Even her humor came from bad English pronunciation and extreme ah-lian-ness rather than wit and acting. Ms Oon Shu On is one of the rising stars in Singapore theatre and again her role was very muted. As for Ms Natalie Ong, her singing was good but her acting well, you can tell she is new. At the end of the day, she only sang for a little of the show for ‘Jin Pai Tia.’ As for the actors playing the young recruits, their roles were too small and short to comment. For the acting, the actors were very much let down and were not given much chance and time to shine in their uniqueness.

The story was fairly decent and the twist in the plot was shocking. But that was it. Just a twist. After that flat-line again.  There were little parts about the new recruits bonding with each other, little  parts about the love triangle between two of the recruits and Renee, little parts about the relationship between Malcolm and the new Chief, a little part between Malcolm and his son. That the issue with this show, they were all little parts, just a touch and move on. I felt that there was too many characters and not enough ‘screen time.’ However, the show lasted only slightly longer than 1 hour 40 minutes which was very short.

As mentioned earlier in this review, the music was good and the dancing was well choreographed. My favourite was ‘Jin Pai Tia,’ ‘Look, See, Believe’ and ‘Hokkien Rhapsody.’ The lyrics were well written and the dancing especially the ballet scene was well done.

I bet there were many who really enjoyed Army Daze 2 but sadly I wasn't one of them. Hopefully Army Daze 2 will be made into a movie with a bigger budget and please continue to cast Enlai and Jo and Hossan in it because they deserved to shine.  

*Please note that this review was intentionally done / published after the show ended to avoid having any effect during the run.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wah Sibei Song ah !! Army Daze 2 lai liao !!!!

Many of you would have watched Michael Chiang’s Army Daze before. It was originally a novel made into a theatre play which was first released in 1987 and made into a highly successful movie in 1996. There have been several reruns of this widely acclaimed play since then with minor tweaks such as different lines, different songs and with different cast members. However, the premise has been the same. It is about 5 young men from various backgrounds, of different races and most importantly different behaviours enlisting for National Service. The play tells in highly hilarious way on the troubles of these 5 men adopting to NS, being away from their loved ones and how they grow through NS and what happens when they end NS.

This time, Army Daze 2 is the continuation of the original. Army Daze 2 is a brand new play again written by Michael Chiang and directed by Beatrice Chia-Richmond. The show also promises many new songs composed by Don Richmond himself (btw he is my Sec 3 and 4 classmate!!!). Army Daze 2 tells the story of the original 5 men and their lives after NS, in fact 30 years after ROD. To make matters more interesting, there is also an underlying comparison between NS today and then through the NS journey of one of the original 5’s son.

Army Daze promises to be a barrel of laughs with great acting. Just looking at the cast and you are guaranteed high quality top-of-the-drawer entertainment. We have Hossan Leong, Chua Enlai, Shane Mardjuki, Joshua Lim and Ebi Shankara .. all current top Singapore play actors and comedians. Then we also have Jo Tan last seen in La Cage and Oon Shu An from the recently concluded Boeing Boeing. In addition, Army Daze 2 debuts Singapore’s own X-Factor (Australia) sensation – Ms Natalie Ong.

Script by Michael Chiang  + Stellar cast + Don Richmond’s Music + Beatrice Chia direction = SURE WIN LA !!!

Army Daze 2 will be showing from 4/8/2017 to 20/8/2017 at the Drama Centre Theatre at the National Library. Tickets are selling out really fast and you can grab them at SISTIC.

What better way to salute our men in uniform this NS50 year than to laugh it all out at Army Daze 2. Make sure you find a way to catch the original Army Daze before hand !!!!

See ya there .... 

We are born of love; Love is our mother. ... my preview of Mother I (2) by Ver Theatre

Once in a while I like to watch and experience something ‘off the beaten track’, away from the W!ld Rice’s colorful pantomimes, or the Pangdemonium’s big budgets epics. The last few years I have caught Melancholy Play by Couch Theatre and Boom by Sigh Lines and really enjoyed them and the very high quality of presentation. These works depend heavily on the acting and delivery due to the usually smaller budget, lesser use of props and smaller venues. Also they normally tackle very serious topics which are usually taboo.

I am very glad to be invited by my good buddy Catherine to catch her upcoming show called Mother I (2). This is presented by Ver Theatre. It is called Mother I (2) because there was a first part done last year. The general theme of the show is about mothers. Their growth, feelings, and journey through different phases of motherhood. The first part of Mother I was about the trials and tribulations of being a mother during childbirth in this new era.

Mother I (2) continues this with the child growing up and the mother having to go through this growing up stage with the added complications of current world issues such as when the child is separate from the mother, bringing up a challenged child and having to cope with a child facing gender acceptance issues.

These are very heavy issues and I will really be anticipating on how a small cast of just three persons will be able to convince the audience to share in their joy and pain.

The venue for Mother I (2) is the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box at Goodman Road and tickets are on sale now at This show will run from 10/8/2017 to 13/8/2017 with just 5 shows. So quickly go grab your tickets before they are sold out.

I for one will want to watch this as I personally feel that small independent production houses need to be heard and you will be amazed at the acting of some of these newcomers. Just better bring your Kleenex as I am sure it will be a tear jerker.

Stay tuned for a review of Mother I (2).

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Fasten your seat belts, lean back and let W!ld Rice Airlines take care of all your entertainment needs - My Review of Boeing Boeing 2017

Before taking a flight, many things run through your mind. Questions swirl around the in-flight meal, the entertainment, who is going to be sitting next to you throughout the flight and whether the person sitting behind you is going to be kicking your seat throughout the flight? Every flight experience is unique in its pleasant and unpleasant moments.

Watching W!ld Rice’s Boeing Boeing in 2017 evoked the same questions before the show. I did not watch the original staging in 2002 but I caught the 2010 staging. It was the second W!ld Rice show I watched after “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Adrian Pang played the lead role of Bernard with Daniel York as Robert. The nationalities of the stewardesses were Singaporean, Hong Konger and Japanese, played by Chermaine Ang, Wendy Kweh and the late Emma Yong respectively. Siti Khalijah played the role of Rosa.

That version was directed by Glenn Goei. It was a very strong cast with Chermaine, Emma and Glenn returning from the 1st staging. I remember that I enjoyed the show tremendously and the show was an eye-opener. It showed me how good Singapore theatre could be. In fact, it was after watching Boeing Boeing 2010 that I decided I was going to start a blog on the local theatre. Fast forward to 2017 ....

Boeing Boeing 2017 is directed by Pam Oei (who starred in the 2002 staging). Rodney Oliveiro plays Bernard with Shane Mardjuki as Robert. The nationalities of the stewardesses are changed to Singaporean, Indian and Mainland Chinese, played by Oon Shu An, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and Judee Tan respectively. Bibeth Orteza plays the role of Rosa. I will go more into the acting shortly...

The set of Boeing Boeing is just a living room with many doors. For the 2017 staging, the choice was to have a more Scandinavian look with lots of wood in the walls. It was neat and cosy. Also the doors were very strong considering they were being slammed shut many times in each show. I very much appreciate that the set had several layers. You can see that behind the doors are actual bedroom sets rather than just empty stage. Well done to the stage set guys !! I also so love Victoria Theatre. The closeness to the stage really feels nice and warm. 

Overall, the acting was good. It is arguable who had the bigger role between the two men. I personally felt that Shane (Robert) had more stage time as compared to Rodney (Bernard). At the earlier parts of the show, Shane was a bit more awkward but as the show went along, he got better. Rodney played the part of Bernard well but I think he could have been better. I have definitely seen him better. Throughout the show, he had the same level of intensity of expression. It would have been good if he was able to show varying degrees of emotion at the different points of the show. When he was confident.. he had a certain look, when he was panicking.. he had the same look and when he was relieved.. the same look. I personally could not feel the emotions as much as I could from Shane.

The nationalities of the stewardesses were changed to suit the strengths of the three ladies. Shu An played the role of the SIA stewardess. I can so imagine an SIA stewardess talking and behaving in the same way after they get home. She brought on the laughter with her ‘ah-lianness.’ Rebekah played the role of an Air India stewardess. I felt that this role could be further enhanced. The only thing special about this role was the ‘Indian accent’ and the sari. Even after a while, the accent was lost amongst all the lines. There was nothing there which made her stand our as an Indian girl or even an Air Indian girl. Judee Tan played the role of the China Airlines girl. She really stood out amongst all the cast. She brought the house down with her exaggerated China-English accent and her Opera moves. (I could hear Chua Enlai guffawing) It was really an excellent choice casting Judee for this role.

I feel that the role of Rosa is very important to this show. She is the person who glues all the roles together and provides most of the humour to the show with her constant grumblings and ranting. However, I feel that Bibeth was a bit lacking in this role. It is intentional for her to repeat certain lines as a typical Filipino helper, but I felt that it became rather jarring to hear her repeat the line again and again listlessly. I think it may be the artistic direction for her to appear drained and tired but it just felt boring. I cannot help but remember when Siti was playing this role, she was the highlight of the 2010 show.

Overall, Boeing Boeing 2017 is highly entertaining and an extremely funny take on polygamy. If you ever wanted 3 stewardess girlfriends .. watch this and you will surely realise the 'Ascends' and 'Descends' of polygamy !! As promised by W!ld Rice, Boeing Boeing 2017 is really this year’s sexiest comedy.

For those of you who have seen the earlier versions, this is pleasantly different but yet comfortably familiar. It is like being on a different aircraft but with the same airline. For those who are thinking to watch it for the first time... it is going to be like taking a flight for the first time...exciting and full of anticipation. Whatever it is, fasten your seat belt, sit back and enjoy the excellent service and hospitality of W!ld Rice Airlines.

Don’t forget the last flight from Victoria Theatre Airport is on 22nd July 2017. Quickly grab your tickets online and check in to Boeing Boeing 2017 before it departs.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my Muslim readers Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri – Maaf Zahir dan Batin.