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Review: A $ingapore Carol by W!ld Rice

The Dickensian holiday classic gets a Singaporean twist

There are few shows more quintessential to Christmas than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, having received countless adaptations and stagings each holiday season. And here in sunny Singapore, while it may not be the most familiar tale to most, all that might just change with W!ld Rice’s Singaporean twist on the classic – A $ingapore Carol.

Written by Jonathan Lim and directed by Hossan Leong, A $ingapore Carol, like its name suggests, updates and relocates its source material to our modern day island city. Our protagonist is S.K. Loo (Sebastian Tan), a heartless, multi-millionaire CEO of a massively popular app who hates Christmas. Think the Grinch meets boss from hell, and you’ve got the exact image of Loo, firing his right hand man de Crachit (Fauzie Laily) on Christmas Eve, refusing to attend his nephew’s (Terence Tay) annual Christmas brunch, and turning away protestors who’ve been harmed by his company’s dirty practices. But all that is about to change when he meets a former business partner (Dwayne Lau), doomed to live out the rest of his days in hell as he returns to warn Loo of the terrible future that will befall him if he does not change. Visited by three spirits of Christmas over the night of Christmas Eve, will Loo be able to see the error of his ways before it’s too late?

Despite its somewhat darker subject matter, what with its issues of socially irresponsible corporations, rich-poor divides and spectres returning from the bowels of hell, A $ingapore Carol, true to W!ld Rice pantomime tradition, remains an unabashedly fun romp every step of the way. The cast is stellar, performing each role with gusto, energy and sincerity that warms us each time they step onstage, including ensemble members Andrew Lua, Rachel Chin and Farhan Hassan. As S.K. Loo, Sebastian Tan effectively toes the line between foul and funny, utilizing typical Singaporean sarcasm to bring on the laughs, while also being likable enough to believe in his eventual redemption as he goes through one emotional scene after another. Dwayne Lau impresses with his range of accents across characters, while Fauzie Laily and Terence Tay deliver on the feels as a father and a younger version of Loo respectively, each bringing out the inherent tenderness of their roles. But it is the terrific trio of Siti Khalijah Zainal, Audrey Luo and Candice de Rozario who steal the show as the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-To-Be. Each one receiving their own solo numbers, these actresses fully commit to their over the top characters, divas in their own right and a formidable match for Loo, crumbling easily under their combined might, one after the other. Casting is spot on, and every scene is infectiously joyous from start to finish.

Audience participation elements are always a difficult part to get right, especially with older, more self-conscious viewers, but director Hossan Leong has done well to make these accessible and convince audiences to fully participate with confidence – throughout the show, audience members are periodically encouraged to whip out their phones and upload photos to social media or even use them as a key part of the show’s narrative, allowing one to feel personally engaged and involved with the story, and a step in the right direction to give audiences a chance to snap away rather than chide them for sneaking in photos to the chagrin of outraged ushers. In addition, one of the best aspects of A $ingapore Carol would be the introduction of another art form – literal magic as created by illusionist Jeremy Pei, sparking genuine wonder and delight in audiences as actors appear to ‘teleport’ instantaneously from one place to another with no visible trapdoors, enhancing the mysterious enchantment that Christmas holds sway over all of us each season.

A W!ld Rice show never scrimps on production value, and A $ingapore Carol takes things to the next level, boasting an all-star creative team of some of the best people working in theatre today – Eucien Chia deserves top notch praise for his beautiful, detail-oriented set, be it the true-to-life enactment of the TEDx Talk like stage, to Loo’s audaciously luxurious apartment practically oozing the scent of money (helped by Genevieve Peck’s jealousy inducing view of the CBD projected through a ‘window’). Scene transitions are swift and smooth, and in the blink of an eye, we’re transported to an idyllic kampong in the 60s, or a creepy digital crematorium in the near-future. Choreographer Andy Benjamin Cai has created some slick mass numbers and even works in some tongue-in-cheek numbers throughout the various sequences, from a reference to Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller to the Chicken Dance, allowing the First Stage kids to show off their adorable moves and leave the adult audiences going ‘awww’.Shah Tahir’s sound design is perfectly mapped to each scene, while Tube Gallery’s colourful costumes, The Make Up Room’s makeup and Ashley Lim’s well-coiffed wigs and hair are immediately arresting and help clearly define each character’s personalities and role upon first sight, making for a production that is all around stunning to watch.

What one eventually takes away from A $ingapore Carol though, goes beyond fantastic design and glamorous fun – coming hot on the heels of renewed public debate surrounding issues of class and the rich-poor divide, A $ingapore Carol is timely to suggest how out of touch and heartless the rich in cash may be towards the less fortunate through its all too familiar tale. S.K. Loo then becomes a warning to us all, a character we see more often than not in the modern Singaporean willing to turn a blind eye to inconvenient truths, and a reminder to never let the spirit of Christmas dim in us, showing love and compassion where we can for others.

With its many tongue-in-cheek references, strong production value and underlying messages of the importance of finding real connection and compassion, it’s no surprise then that A $ingapore Carol is a ball of a time, and the perfect show to bring friends and family to indulge in and discover both theatre and the true spirit of Christmas this holiday season.

 Photo Credit: Albert Lim K.S. 

Performance attended 24/11/18 (Gala Night)

A $ingapore Carol plays at the Victoria Theatre from 23rd November to 15th December 2018. Tickets available from SISTIC

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