If you’re a person of Chinese origin, chances are you grew up having watched at least one version of Journey To The West on television. Now, W!ld Rice is here to break those language barriers with its annual Christmas pantomime, and they’ve brought back the sellout Monkey Goes West for the second year in a row, and the bold move certainly paid off.
Alfian Sa’at takes the classic Chinese tale of Journey to the West and spices it up with local flavour, spinning it into a two hour family-friendly musical extravaganza. He even manages to subtly throw in his own political views, including a great throwaway reference to 2016 US Presidential Elections. When the curtain opened, the audience was immediately treated to beautiful, elaborate set, designed by Wong Chee Wai. Although we were treated to multiple sets, the one standout piece was a house with multiple trophies, probably signifying a typical Singaporean house, where the trophies and achievements overshadow everything else. We’re introduced to Ah Tang (Alfian Sa’at’s riff on Tang San Zhang, played by Joshua Lim), an orphan in search of his family as he travels to the west. Jurong West that is. Along the way he’s joined by the terrible trio of Monkey (Sugie Phua), Pigsy (Frances Lee) and Sandy (Siti K, who was obviously enjoying herself) as they venture forth and battle demons both real and among them.
As with all W!ld Rice pantomimes, the cast really made the show what it is, and Sebastian Tan’s brilliant direction really tied it all together and allowed them to shine. Joshua Lim was given free rein to interact with the audience, and he had great chemistry with the many kids in attendance, playing off their energy to deliver an even better performance. Frances Lee was also amazing, and really showcased her acting chops here. Look out for Frances and Sugie engaging in a battle of ‘yo mama’ jokes, which will have you gasping for air from laughter. And with Chua En Lai, who played multiple roles, was a hit with the crowd when he began mispronouncing words and entered the stage donning high heels with complete confidence. Special mention must be made about newcomer Kimberly Chan, who played the Boy on Fire. Even just starting out, she is chock-full of talent, a triple threat who can dance, act and sing. Her vocals alone ended the first half of the performance on a high.
The production lost no steam at all by having the versatile Chua En Lai open it, making overt sexual euphemisms and references to his long, suckable…’magic rod’, again proving Alfian’s ability to tease audiences with his cheeky script. This was a great indicator that the second half wouldn’t be letting up at all, and we were especially taken with the laugh out loud scene involving the master of disguises. In this particular scene, King Bull (Darius Tan) pretends to be the Monkey King (Sugie Phua), essentially switching characters with each other, but in such a quick and seamless transition that you’d blink and miss it if you weren’t paying attention. Audience members were also treated to an innovative use of traditional Indonesian wayang kulit shadow puppetry to portray the fighting scenes (courtesy of the Finger Players), dramatizing it and really bringing it to life.
In a standard pantomime, the children play an integral part in the performance, and W!ld Rice’s kids are evidently well-trained. A mix of trainees from W!ld Rice’s First Stage K!ds and Martial House Kids, they really stepped up to the plate and served up a bundle of joy. Everything in the show really came together, and drove the importance of team work and the magic of reading, a lost art for many nowadays. There was a real emotional note in the air when Siti K and Joshua Lim did a duet of 世上只有妈妈好 (literally, Mother Is The Only Good Person) in both English and Mandarin, and was testament to both their acting and singing abilities. Ending off on a thoughtful note, the audience brought home the message that everyone may have bad traits, but ultimately, there is good in all of us no matter what, a fitting Christmas message for all the naughty kids out there.
With its catchy songs, lovable cast and heartwarming tale, it’s no wonder W!ld Rice has brought back this amazing musical for yet another round to delight kids and adults this Christmas season. It’s no wonder Monkey Goest West won production of the year at the previous Life! Theatre Awards. Do yourself a favour and make this the one Christmas production you’ve got to catch. Hint: It makes for a great Christmas gift as well, so be sure to take your loved ones along!
Monkey Goes West plays at the Drama Centre Theatre till 17 December. Tickets available from SISTIC.