“More doll playing needed.”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 10 March 2017
“We play with dolls. In other words, we animate in-animated objects,” says Paper Monkey Theatre, whose unique selling point is puppetry. The company is also dedicated to engaging the community at large in an interactive manner, by promoting and nurturing their interest in Asian stories of adventure fantasy and mystery with it. The latest result of this mission is a no frills, formulaic, extended school assembly staging of The Fearful King, which subtly touches on the slippery slope of the death penalty.
The play is simply staged, with five performers that narrate and act out the story of the Fearful King with heart and a lot of zest. Along with some songs (very Disney-inspired) and interactive participation with the audience to make sure no one is snoozing or playing with their smart phones, it is the puppet sequences that truly engage, and make the production less arduous!
The audience – comprising the very young (as a fun activity to watch before their holidays) to the senior citizens (out for an event to while away their time) – witnesses a performance that focuses on themes of overcoming diverse cultural differences, and triumphing over discrimination and prejudice.
With a subtle message that death is not the solution to solve all crimes, the piece is admirably staged.
But while this reviewer was looking forward to something magical, he cannot but feel a little disappointed with the lack of puppet-time on stage. With the simplicity of the puppets’ actions – with narration, music and lights – creating a very magical and lively experience for the audience, the script only allows them to be on the stage for key moments. Aside from those, the audience has to wait patiently to see them in between plodding dialogue from the performers.
The puppets – which vary from life-size ones to the traditional Wayang Kulit – are beautiful, and make a wonderful presence on stage when they do appear. But the 60-minute piece could have been shortened by at least ten to 15 minutes, with less (or no) interaction with the audience.
Paper Monkey Theatre has been around for nine years, and as The Fearful King is the follow up to The Magic Lantern – the company’s nominated children’s production at this year’s Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards – this reviewer expects more. Admittedly, it’s a small budget show with a lack of awareness (e.g. limited to simple social media plugs, no programs, little credit of the performers or creative team, etc.). Still, it is overall a disappointing theatre experience.
When another puppet theatre company (formerly a unit of Kuo Pao Kun’s The Theatre Practice set up in 1996) made an artistic overhaul in 2004 to not only focus puppetry for children but adults as well, its repertoire of works has evolved positively.
Perhaps it is time for Paper Monkey Theatre to relook its artistic objectives, whilst staying true to its values too.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
THE FEARFUL KING by Paper Monkey Theatre
8 – 10 March 2017
Siglap South Community Club
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.