“Making fun (of)”
Reviewer: Jeremiah Choy
Performance: 24 November 2016
“Pantomines are never politically correct. They poke both gentle and cruel fun at our human foibles and, through humour, bring us face-to-face with our greed, prejudice, cowardice and dishonesty.” (Taken from the programme of Monkey Goes West.)
And true enough from the word “GO”, in Monkey Goes West, the fun begins with the laugh-a-minute incisive digs at societal odds and behaviours.
Alfian Sa’at’s two-year-old script still scintillates. His not-so-subtle references to Singapore’s perpetual quest for the best and other astute multi-racial and inter-cultural observations make for perfect material in a pantomime.
But amidst the laughter, there are lots of gems of self-reflection, self-questioning and self-discovery.
From the grand opening of the gold-gilded celestial palace to a humble trophy-laden HDB flat, Wong Chee Wai’s set provides both a supernatural and natural backdrop to a well-integrated tale of a boy seeking enlightenment to his lone existence in “over-achieving” Singapore.
Ah Tang (joyfully played by Joshua Lim) leads a motley crew of “monsters”: Monkey King (sensitively played by Sugie Phua), Pigsy (comical portrayal by Frances Lee) and Sandy (played with great skill by Siti Khalijah). As they journey west (Jurong West, that is), Ah Tang realises different (uniquely Singaporean) traits within himself: Naughty, Greed and Stubborn – traits that he eventually conquers and overcomes.
The clever doubling of Uncle Moo/King Bull (depicted with much gusto by Darius Tan), Auntie Fanny/Princess Iron Fan (Chua Enlai is irresistibly coy in this role) and their over-achieving child Xian Hong/Red Boy (Kimberly Chan brings a keen portrait to the show) not only brought the house down, but also highlighted the often-misunderstood “villains” of our society.
It is in the double-speak of Auntie Fanny/Princess Iron Fan that we get to hear our most politically incorrect inner voices on discrimination and self-incrimination. Amidst the “nail-cracking laughter, we pause to suddenly realise how insensitive we can be at times.
The cross-dressing elements of a pantomime are not lost on the audience either. Much success is rested upon the clever interplay of not only genders, but also race in casting. It is lovely that a Malay actress plays Guanyin Ma (who is a universal symbol of mothers,) or woman-crazy Pigsy played by a woman, or that Auntie Fanny, who swallows, played by a man. The double-meaning (almost sexual) innuendos are not lost on the more enlightened audience as well.
It is indeed a magnificent cast that director Sebastian Tan has assembled and mobilized – all playing to their individual and combined talents. The amazement never stops – with super costume changes (Tube Gallery), fantastic hair (Ashley Lim) and make up (The Make Up Room led by Bobbie Ng) that keeps the audience going oohs and aahs each time.
Audience participation is key to a pantomime. The cast surely whips up a storm each time a danger prevails. It is not only the child in the audience that is screaming, the grown ups in the audience are equally excited as well.
The most illuminating moment for me is the song “Sum Of Our Parts”. Here is the crux and heart of the musical – that the production is not just making fun of (as pantomimes ought to), it is also fun-making.
As Auntie Fanny aptly puts, never under-“inseminate” (estimate)’ – the power of theatre. It does not matter what race, language or religion we are, theatre never fails to create awareness within us so long as we are open minded. And hopefully, we will stop being judgmental in our prejudices and start having fun.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
MONKEY GOES WEST by Wild Rice
18 Nov – 17 Dec 2016
SOTA Studio Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jeremiah Choy is a trained lawyer who went full time into the arts in 1997. He believes that theatre is a place where one can suspend (even for a short while) reality through myth, mystery and magic making. While not directing, curating or producing a show, he enjoys penning his thoughts through Jereisms and Jeresop Fables.