“When the storytelling goes bad…. the result is decadence.”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 8 August 2017
For audience members who are looking forward to seeing where life has taken the group of army recruits, 30 years after being introduced to them in Michael Chiang’s 1987 play Army Daze – beware!
Despite boasting a strong creative and production team helmed by director Beatrice Chia-Richmond, Chiang’s Army Daze 2 is a theatrical disaster. But not in the way of being poorly executed – if anything, the slick scene changes (which are too many, and better suits TV) are the plus points. Rather, the fault lies in the play’s actual story; over-the-top performances by both seasoned and upcoming actors as they play up the usual Singaporean stereotypes; unnecessary original music (Don Richmond’s music and lyrics are funny, but out to achieve guffaws); and complete disregard for subtlety and simplicity. Everything here is milked for cheap laughs and gimmicks: a snake slithering across the stage made some people chuckle, but would make others roll their eyes at its lameness.
It is hard to comment on anything positive – the late ’80s music played before the show and the pop songs played during the intermission were the key highlights for this reviewer.
With a paper-thin plot and characters that one could hardly give a damn about, this reviewer felt, at times, like he was watching a community show (there is Indian dancing, Chinese ghost dancing, even Western ballet in dream and flashback sequences). It also left him wondering if spending the eve of National Day watching this was really worth his while.
But that the masses seem to have lapped up the performance shows that it succeeded in achieving its goal. There was almost a laugh every other minute over the antics (though this reviewer would be very scared if the actual army recruits of 2017 is anything like those onstage).
Chia-Richmond was known for controversial works in the earlier part of the millennium – like Shopping and F******, Fireface, and Bent – which helped her grow as a director. Fast forward years later, she’s been involved creatively in many a National Day Parade, and seems to have traded in “less is more” for “bigger is better”. And while this aesthetic is acceptable for national-scale events, it does not work – for this reviewer anyway – on stage.
If one follows the saying that an artist is best remembered for his or her last work, then Army Daze 2 would be a terrible way to remember both Chiang and Chia-Richmond: great entertainment on the surface, but a lot of hot air underneath.
However, if they find their heart and souls back – not necessarily in collaboration – this reviewer would look forward to that.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
ARMY DAZE 2 by Singapore Street Festival
4 – 20 August 2017
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christian is a C42 Boiler Room 2016 playwright, and enjoys being an audience member to different mediums of the arts. He finds arts invigorating to the soul, and truly believes that the vibrant arts scene has come a long way from its humble beginnings.