The dictionary defines a spectacle as “a visually striking performance or display”. Well, they might as well replace that with a “See: Monkey Goes West“.
Ten years of staging Western fairy tales had Wild Rice beginning the new decade with a Chinese classic. Produced by Tony Trickett and directed by Sebastian Tan, Monkey Goes West is a modern-day adaptation of the much-adored Journey to the West novel. Placed in a Singaporean context, the story is centred on an orphan child (Ah Tang) who has fled home from Jurong West to Haw Par Villa.
In a whirlwind of events, he ends up in foreign territory where he meets the Monkey King, river ogre Sandy and Pigsy and is mistaken as Tang Seng, the monk-pilgrim. As they embark on a quest in search of sacred scriptures from the West, their journey takes them through encounters with Red Boy, Princess Iron Fan and King Bull. With quirky references from The Little Mermaid to The Lord of the Rings, all-rounded wordsmith Alfian Sa’at has undoubtedly proved his flair for wit and hilarity once again in yet another one of his pantomimes.
Under the production, the overhauled Victoria Theatre spotlighted a number of young talents including the ever-enthusiastic up-and-comer Joshua Lim, playing 15-year-old Ah Tang, and the very spirit of the show, Monkey, played by Project SuperStar alumnus Sugie Phua. Rollicking and riotous, you’d never believe this was Sugie’s first English performance. Not to mention, the 33 adorable kids on stage encompassing the literal sense of “young talent”.
Frances Lee is somewhat of a fresh blood as well with an unintended tie with hogs (but it’s not what you think). Her professional debut saw her playing the lead in Pangdemonium’s Fat Pig. Now, she’s been upgraded to cross-dress as Pigsy (a highly-regarded commander-in-chief who fell from grace and degraded into a human-pig oaf of a hybrid)! And if it’s any indication of her proficiency, Frances disappears into her role rather effortlessly. Shedding her feminine complex, she leaves nothing but a slightly girlish voice that serves as a reminder that beneath that guise is a superbly gifted actress (who, for the record, owns a pair of powerhouse pipes!).
As always, the veteran theatre cross-dresser, Chua Enlai, has the crowd at his mercy. In his sixth pantomime, he personates Princess Iron Fan, who suffers severe pronunciation impediments, which basically is a free pass for endless puns. Just the mere sight of his risque “uniform” conjured up guffaws that shook the entire theatre.
But alas! Thanks to her spot-on comedic timing and slapstick body language, Siti Khalijah Zainal earned her spot as the show-stealer. Switching seamlessly in between her three roles (Guanyin Ma, Sandy, and a random Malay neighbour of Ah Tang), she manages to trigger streams of thigh-slapping laughter without having to do too much.
Mad props to the set designer, Wong Chee Wai, for creating a whole new world on stage that almost fooled us into thinking it was real. From the grandiose pillars of the heavenly court to the lotus throne of Guanyin Ma, it captured the Eastern aesthetics with the added razzle dazzle of a pantomime. Ingenious in mimicking visual effects through physical means, Chee Wai innovated one of the most engaging stunts when he manipulated a piece of blue fabric like a huge wave crashing onto the stage by stretching it across the middle row of audience and moving it from the back to the front.
None of these portrayals could have been as compelling without the intricate costumes designed by Thai fashion house Tube Gallery’s Phisit Jongnarangsin and Saxit Pisalasupongs, who won Best Costume Design at the Life! Theatre Awards for their work in 881 The Musical two years ago. Coupled with Bobbie Ng’s cosmetics and Ashley Lim’s handmade headdresses and wigs, the cast was able to match the extravagance of the set.
The audio masters (music composer Elaine Chan and musical director Bang Wenfu) behind the Oriental-tinged tunes are not to be forgotten either. In fact, each number crosses with a different genre. Expect rock, flamenco and cha-cha music amidst the more traditional Chinese songs like the opening theme, whose catchy lyrics still echo within our heads.
Monkey Goes West is a family show, indeed, catering to both young ‘uns and adults; deep-voiced chuckles are a guaranteed reaction to sexual innuendos. And as a virgin director, Sebastian deserves a standing ovation for doing a darn brilliant job of crafting a true spectacle, a perfect year-end treat.
Relive this childhood fairy tale by first grabbing tickets here!
When: Now till Dec 13, 2014
Where: Victoria Theatre
Admission: $50 – $80
Photos courtesy of Wild Rice/Albert KS Lim.