“Evolution of friendship”
Reviewer: Isaac Lim
Performance: 12 November 2016
Lights on. We see Huat Bee on stage in a retro 1990s pose; sort of like a “Mambo” move. Huat Bee then proceeds to the blackboard with a chalk in hand to write down the word “Evolution”. He turns to the audience and explains what evolution is.
This is the life of Huat Bee, the story of a supposed skinny and scrawny guy, set against a larger-than-life world. It is because he is so small in size, as compared to his peers, that he is nicknamed “haebi” or dried shrimps. He studies in an all-boys school, and the choice extra-curricular activity in the said school is rugby. He doesn’t excel in rugby, but his best friend Hing Kong (a.k.a King Kong) does. And they develop a long withstanding friendship that is what this almost two-hour long monodrama is all about.
Not-that-scrawny actor Hang Qian Chou plays the role of Huat Bee in this iteration of Shrimps. It is the first time Hang takes on a monologue, and is the star of his own show. While he physically doesn’t seem to fit the role, he certainly fills the shoe all right.
Hang is charming as the slightly nerdy Huat Bee. He carries off a demeanor that brings people into his world through what he says. Hang is able to portray both the serious moments and the comedic moments with ease, and is simply a pleasure to watch.
The monologue by Desmond Sim was first written and performed in 1999. This version, directed by Jeffrey Tan, tries to keep to the 1990s vibes through the music and, to a lesser extent, the costumes.
Huat Bee is seen “growing up” on stage, through his teenage years until adulthood, as he changes his clothes on stage with the help of stage assistants. While initially awkward, the theme of “evolution” soon makes sense.
As the character grows up, we see his struggles with life; not so much due to his physique, but his beliefs. His friendship with Hing Kong, or King Kong, or later known as Norman, changes with time. The decay is told through Huat Bee, but it isn’t hard for the audience to imagine the actions because Hang narrates with such conviction.
The plot is perhaps a little too predictable and a tad too long. Many things happen on stage that Sim manages to link together (cause-and-effect) that could be cut altogether. The major twist towards the end felt a little overdramatic, and it’s something this play didn’t need to conclude. It is mired with too many stereotypes that even good acting could not salvage the datedness of the storyline.
As the lights come on towards the end, the atmosphere is heavy. We see Huat Bee losing a friend to terminal illness. Then again, we see the once-bullied person, who is really just an everyman like you and me, standing tall despite his (supposedly) petite frame, and understanding the importance of friendship. Now, that sense of nostalgia doesn’t seem that bad after all.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
SHRIMPS IN SPACE by GenerAsia Limited
10 – 13 November 2016
SOTA Studio Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Isaac Lim is a third-year Theatre Studies major at the National University of Singapore who enjoys bustling in all-things-arty, gets crafty, and indulges in being a foodie