Friday, February 28, 2020

Depression is such a dirty word. Or is it? - My review of Pangdemonium’s ‘The Son’

How many of you know of someone who is suffering from depression or anxiety or have suicidal tendencies or are self-hurting themselves? How many of you know of someone who has attempted or committed suicide? How many of you think that being happy means not having depression? Is that person yourself? In today's ever increasing complex society, there are so many issues and circumstances which can lead someone to depression such as cyber bullying, relationship breakups, peer pressure, parental pressure, work pressures, school pressures and more and more. Are we doing enough to help these people? How are we doing so? Is it a case of “just suck it up .. it is a part of life and growing up.” 

I just watched Pangdemonium’s The Son at the Drama Centre theatre and I must say it was truly remarkable. This show revolves around a family whose son is going through depression and how the family is torn apart by this. The father is a successful professional who wholeheartedly loves his son and will do what it takes to help his son recover. However, is he truly doing what his son really needs or doing what he ‘thinks’ his son needs? Is he truly helping the son or harming his son? Is he really listening? This is the main premise of this show and though it may seem simple, this show will exhibit to the audience the complexities of someone facing depression and how things can get worse by ‘loving’ the person.

The two main roles were played by the father-son duo of Adrian and Zachary Pang. In my previous reviews, I have mentioned several times of how Adrian Pang stands out as one of the most gifted actors in Singapore. His ability to transmit the feelings of joy, worry, fury and sadness is just amazing. At the end of the show, you can see the exhaustion on his face from his focus and passion in his acting. Zachary seems to have inherited his father’s talent. His role as the son was played well. The tone of his voice, his body language, the gestures he makes is so natural that you can’t help but feel that he is really a teenager facing depression. Maybe as they are father-son in real life makes their portrayal seem so much more natural and yet heart-wrenching to watch. The two other roles were played by Shona Benson (the mother) and Sharda Harrison (the new partner). The two ladies also were very good in their performances.  

Throughout the show, I can’t help but feel like I was looking through a window of a real family facing these problems. The set of the show is simple but fitting of this show. Just a normal living room in a normal home. Minimal furniture to distract you from the captivating performance of the cast.

Kudos to Pangdemonium for being special and daring to bring such a provocative but yet relevant show to us. This is not your typical ha-ha-ha kind of show but one which tackles serious a real-life topic in an entertaining, unforgiving, no-holds-barred manner. A big thank you and congratulations to Tracie Pang for her excellent direction in this production. I could feel the audience really moved by the brutally honest direction of the show.

Personally, I am very glad that there was a very healthy turnout for a weekday evening show. I am glad that people are winning against the fear of Covid-19 and supporting our local arts. As long as the support is there, I am sure people like Pangdemonium will continue to be energised and motivated to produce more such high-quality theatre for us.

I would like to end on a more serious and sombre note. Depression is all around us, heck we may be facing it but we term it as ‘work-stress’ or ‘just being tired.’ Depression is very real and is no joking matter. If you know someone facing depression, please do something about it. If you think you are facing depression, please do something about it.

Go get your tickets at SISTIC to Pangdemonium's The Son and you will see and feel the reality of depression. I implore parents of teenagers to go watch this as what you think as ‘teenage angst’ may be hiding a darker reality. I ask for parents of future teenagers to watch this so that you can identify the signs early. Finally, I fully recommend everyone to watch this as this is very relevant today and hopefully it will jolt you and you can do something to help someone or yourself. Please don’t wait until its too late …

Monday, February 24, 2020

What’s in a name? I want to be Earnest !!! My Review of The Importance of Being Earnest 2020 by Wild Rice


I remember in 2009, the excited anticipation before the show started while the Tang Quartet entertained the audience at the Drama Center Theatre. I can also fondly recall the added spring in my step and the secret chuckle after the show. It had thoroughly entertained me. The show was The Importance of Being Earnest. Best time in the theatre.. got free food too. Cucumber sandwiches.

Fast forward 11 years later, I watched it again for the third time .. yet again, the same rollercoaster of emotions from the minute I step into the theatre to the moment I leave. The only difference is, instead of Tang Quartet, the musical interludes are now performed by the very accomplished Concordia Quartet, and instead of the Drama Center Theatre, it is now at Wild Rice’s own theatre. Yup !!! Cucumber sandwiches provided too !!! I was served by Hossan Leong !!!!! (Hossan, if you are wondering, I asked you whether Kay Siu also injured his leg and you told me it is an unfortunate result of aging !!!)

In a nutshell, the show was just brilliant !!! It had the audience laughing from start to end. The banter between the characters was sharp, witty and full of intentional puns. A special shoutout to Chua Enlai and Gavin Yap who played Gwendolen and Cecily respectively. They played their roles wonderfully. The part where they were ‘bitchy’ all the way to ‘reconciliatory’ was just so good with every nuances in their expressions perfect. Definitely one of the highlights of this show. Ivan Heng of course played the role of Lady Bracknell as he has always done. I think he is such a natural and he can just do this in his sleep. The two main ‘male’ characters of Algernon and John (Earnest) were played by Brendon Fernandez and Daniel York Loh. They played the same roles in Earnest 2009 and I must say they have matured into the roles since then. You can see more feelings and a more rounded performance in Earnest 2020. However, the ‘ladies’ still stood out. Even Hossan who I personally think is getting better and better (like fine wine la, if you get my drift).

To something a bit more serious. As I write this, there is a very dark cloud over Singapore with the Covid-19 virus. Businesses are suffering. Even the local Arts scene and its community are not spared. In today’s Straits Times, “Arts scene hit hard by virus fears.” highlight how practitioners are struggling to stay afloat. Events / classes are being postponed or cancelled all because of fear of the virus spreading. It was the same last Saturday (22/2/2020) at the matinee show. Usually a Wild Rice show will be filled to the rafters but instead the turnout was less than half the theatre. When I went in and looked around, it hit me hard. I felt very sad. Imagine the cast who can so obviously see the red of the empty seats all around the theatre. It must be very demoralising and yet they hide it well. When Ivan Heng appeared to welcome and greet the audience, he had his signature warm cheeky smile. All the other cast members were also found of enthusiasm, looking so dashing in their white shirts and blue jeans. I am not going to repeat myself on how we can help.  You can read it here where I posted a few days ago about this issue.

However, I want to stand up and applaud all the cast and team of Wild Rice for having the guts to go on with the show knowing the risk that you all personally take as well as the financial risk. I applaud the cast for putting up such a great show that really blew away my worries. If laughter is the best medicine, I would want none-other than you guys to be my doctor !!!

So guys, tickets are still available at SISTIC !!! The show will be running until Sunday, 8th March 2020. Go GET THEM NOW !!! Don't let this virus defeat us !! Satisfaction guaranteed, earnest-ly !!


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Show Must Go On !!! Covid-19 vs Singapore Arts Scene

In the dark light of the current Covid-19 situation happening in Singapore, the local Arts community has been badly affected. Many events have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. For events which have carried on, the turnout has been severely reduced resulting in high losses. Some people will comment that the events should be cancelled anyways and if cancelled at least can minimise losses. It isn’t such a straightforward decision. For many of these events, a lot of time and costs have already invested and deposits on rental of venues have already been paid many weeks earlier and are non-refundable. On top of that, in many cases, the organisers would really want to share their blood, sweat, tears and laughter with the public. Besides, isn’t laughter the best medicine.

In Singapore, due to the relatively small local support of the local Arts, high and / or prolonged losses can have far-reaching repercussions. Smaller, startup organisations may go into debt and be forced to shut down. To cut costs, they may be forced to downsize on their workforce, leading to lay-offs for employees who are already relatively poorly paid or only part-timers. This in turn may lead to a drop in the quality of our local events. Additionally, it may turn away budding playwrights, artists, performers, producers, directors, lighting specialists and set producers from the local scene.

A buddy of mine, recently concluded a survey on the ‘Effect of Covid-19 on the Singapore Arts scene.’ Many respondents were uncertain about their job security especially in the near future. Many were concerned whether the events postponed will ever proceed in the future. Some responded that they may not be able to meet future financial commitments. This is not good.

What can we do about it ?

Before, I give my opinions on what we can do, let me state categorically that I am NOT under the employment of ANY LOCAL ARTS ORGANISATION. I have not in ANY WAY WHATSOEVER been asked, requested, bribed, paid (even in tickets) or forced by anyone to write this. So.. what can we do?
  1. If there are any events happening and you are interested, don’t be scared… GO FOR THEM !!! How is going for an arts event different from going to a shopping mall or even a hotpot meal?
  2. If you have already bought tickets for shows, please don’t go asking for a refund. You already planned to go, so just go and have a good time.  
  3. If you have been considering showing your gratitude for your favourite local arts organisation, what is the best way than to give a small donation to help them especially during this difficult time. Any amount adds up. That extra 50 rolls of toilet paper or 100 packs of instant noodles can wait for next month.
  4. Please don’t discourage your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets from going. Did you and will you discourage your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets from going to work, foodcourts for meals, supermarkets both in Singapore and in Johor Bahru to stockpile on essentials?
  5. If you did go for any local arts event and had a good time, spread the word…. tell your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets in any and all ways. Tell them how good it was and how safe it was and not to worry. It is always better karma to encourage rather than discourage.
  6. If you are going for any of these events, practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands with soap, wear a mask if you wish.
There are many other things which we can all do to help.

To put it bluntly, all our local arts guys are also risking themselves by continuing to do what they love to entertain us but do we not them putting on a face mask or running away in fear? So why should we do that? I do not see you running away from queuing up at the nearby Buzz newsagents when they have face masks to sell? I am very sure that all measures will be taken to ensure that everyone who attends will be safe. Heck even our arts guys want to be safe right? Please have some empathy. They are performing their hearts for you and putting up their most beautiful art works but then they see a half-empty theatre, an empty auditorium or a ‘dead’ gallery, how would they feel?   

I am doing what I can to help because not only do I have good friends who are involved in the local Arts scene, but because this is a matter very close to my heart. Please do not let our local Arts wither due to this virus.

A big thanks to our local Arts community members who continue to work hard for us. Thanks for putting the laughter and joy in our lives. I think it is about time that we put a smile on your face as well !! Take care and be safe. THE SHOW MUST GO ON !!!!

*special thanks to Mr Terence Tan and his team for the work done on the survey.

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.