Toy Factory’s stellar first production charts the birth and growth of a clan association over the last hundred years.
Hokkien is a language that isn’t often associated with grace or beauty, often relegated to slang used in the army or, as is the case with many dialects, seen as a relic of the past. But in Sometime Moon, Toy Factory makes a strong case for convincing audiences otherwise, as they chart the trials and tribulations of a fictitious Hokkien Huay Kuan (clan association) over the last century in their epic first production of the year.
Dedicating a scene to each decade, Sometime Moon is an ambitious project, basing each scene on a single moment in history to encapsulate the concerns of the era. Coupled with costume changes for each and every scene, and one cannot imagine how much work has gone into the creative aspects of the show. Each scene is simple to understand and inspired by a key figure of the decade, such as an Elizabeth Choy-like war heroine (played by Abby Lai) during World War II, and even theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun in the 70s (played by Ian Chionh), whose push for modern theatre leads to suspicion from the government. From coolies forging a new life in ‘Nanyang’, to the move to setting up a group of schools dedicated to helping underprivileged children, or even stubborn realtors attempting to buy over the land the property in built on, these are familiar figures placed in familiar situations, allowing Sometime Moon to easily succeed at forming an immediate, recognizable link with the audience.
As uncouth as Hokkien might sound in daily usage, Benny Wong has composed a catchy soundtrack that showcases the dialect in all its beauty and variety, ranging from soulful ballads to faster-paced, humorous numbers. The title Sometime Moon derives from a Quan Zhou proverb stating how fortunes rise and fall with time, tying in perfectly with the trials and tribulations of the Huay Kuan. Wong’s title theme recurs throughout the musical, and perfectly encapsulates that proverb’s meaning with its mix of understanding and hope in lyrics and composition.
These songs are brought to life by a stellar cast, who commit entirely to each of their characters over the years. Zelda Tatiana Ng has incredible stage presence and commands attention the moment she speaks, shining particularly bright in her role as an artistic director attempting to corral her motley cast, balancing humour and seriousness. Chriz Tong also stands out as one of the strongest singers in the cast, and her many duets are music to our ears, bringing the emotion in her voice when she sings a solo number dedicated to championing the beauty of the Hokkien language. Each of the male cast members are impressive as well, with Timothy Wan effectively differentiating between the many characters he plays onstage with his physicality and voice, while Ian Chionh takes audiences on a journey with his portrayal of the founder’s grandson from bratty schoolboy to apologetic adult. Derrick Tay and Joel Low both possess strong voices, and their onstage energy always infuses a keen enthusiasm to their characters and a welcome sight in each appearance.
For such an epic production though, Petrina Dawn Tan’s set design is surprisingly minimalist, choosing to portray the Huay Kuan building itself as a bare bones, revolving wooden structure. Gabriel Chan’s lighting design helps add some depth and differentiation in each scene, while Jing Ng’s choice to include the sound of a ticking clock during set changes allows one to feel the passage of time, however, one would have liked to see this emphasised more in the set to differentiate and characterise each time period. Perhaps then, one could read the set as emphasising how it is not the structure, look or even presence of the building itself that matters so much as the people that fight to keep it alive and maintain their familial bonds to keep the Huay Kuan relevant throughout the years.
Through Sometime Moon, one is compelled to see the Huay Kuan as a tight knit family, willing to stick through thick and thin over the generations as we watch their initial philanthropy pay off. The efforts and achievements of the association are made crystal clear with this production, and any audience member watching Sometime Moon would be convinced that such an association is worth maintaining for another hundred years more, keeping the flames of the culture well and alive to ensure the continued protection and survival of its people.
Photo Credit: Toy Factory Productions Ltd.
Performance attended: 30/3/18
Sometime Moon played at the Victoria Theatre from 29th – 31st March. Toy Factory’s next production will be A Dream Under The Southern Bough on 30th April and 1st May, and tickets are available from the SIFA website