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Best Of 2018: The Inaugural Bakchormeeboy Theatre Awards (2018)

2018 has been a wild ride in theatre and the arts. With a bumper crop of festivals, fringe type shows and what feels like an unprecedented number of site-specific/immersive theatre experiences, the local arts scene is getting busier than ever. Having seen our fair share of shows we loved, we’re taken a look back at the year and narrowed down some of our favourite works this year for the inaugural Bakchormeeboy Theatre Awards. Here’s our full list of nominees and winners across nine categories, as follows:

Best Immersive Dining 2018

Nominees:
Diva to the Death – Bite Me Productions

Adventures in Grimmsneyland – Andsoforth
A Samsui Love Story – Project Plait
The Secret Garden Supper Club – Andsoforth

The Secret Garden Supper Club

Immersive dining has been fast gaining traction in Singapore, with diners no longer content simply to have their cake and eat it, but also to have an entire show that surrounds that cake and gives them top class entertainment while they’re at it. Incorporating themselves into events like the Singapore Food Festival, or striking it out on their own at unusual venues, immersive dining has added a brand new dimension to both the theatre and dining scene, bringing in new audiences hungry for new experiences.

Audrey Luo in Diva to the Death

Andsoforth is no doubt the local veteran at this, with three productions this year, and a new concept that deviates from their multi-room dining, in the form of The Secret Garden Supper Club’s sit down dinner in a florist. Meanwhile, newer companies such as Bite Me Productions added a musical spin to the genre, bringing in music veteran Elaine Chan and theatre veterans Candice de Rozario, Audrey Luo and Jonathan Lim onto Diva to the Death for an over the top club party gone awry, to Project Plait’s touch of class by incorporating TungLok in the gastronomic process, with an epic love story told through dance.

And the winner is…

Adventures in Grimmsneyland by Andsoforth

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Grimmsneyland builds on Andsoforth’s winning formula with an innovative script, delightful numbers and a colourful fairytale world, making for a feast for the senses. With our funnybones tickled and a surprisingly digestible modern take on morals from familiar fables, Grimmsneyland charmed its way into our hearts and our decision to award Andsoforth this win.

Best Immersive Theatre Production

Nominees:
Attempts: Singapore – Rei Poh
Four Horse Road – The Theatre Practice
Chinatown Crossings – Drama Box
Bitten: Return to Our Roots – Thong Pei Qin and Dr Nidya Manokara

 

Tikam - Tikam 2018

Four Horse Road. Photo Credit: The Theatre Practice

As we’ve mentioned, immersive theatre went big in 2018, with companies daring to go against the grain and bring audiences outside of the traditional theatre space, be it museums, utilising entire buildings, or even multiple outdoor spaces. Rei Poh’s Attempts: Singapore, based off Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, kicked this off at the start of the year with an almost game-like experience as audiences trawled Centre 42 for the slightest of clues, their experience dependent almost entirely on how much they invested in the story.

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Attempts: Singapore. Photo Credit: Andre Chong

The Theatre Practice’s Four Horse Road was no doubt one of the most ambitious work they’ve done, with a sprawling set of stories spanning the ages and languages to bring to life Waterloo Road’s colourful history, while boasting an all star cast. Drama Box’s Chinatown Crossings certainly seemed comparable at first, but resulted in a far more intimate experience that told a pertinent story of change through a sprawling theatrical tour. Rounding up these performances was Bitten, similarly dealing with a specific locale in Singapore, bursting with potential as it attempted to bring personal anecdote, dance and movement to tell the tale of Kampong Bugis.

And the winner is…

Chinatown Crossings by Drama Box

Photo Credit: Drama Box

Chinatown Crossings completely subverted our expectations and set a new bar for local immersive theatre. This production has everything going for it – an engaging narrative that captures your attention and heart from start to end, great design elements that melded past with present, real world with the dramatic, and still manages to educate audiences on our local history, weaving it seamlessly into the script. Best of all – Drama Box has announced that this sold out production will be receiving a restaging come 2019, so be sure to buy your ticket before they’re all snapped up next year.

Best Ensemble

Nominees:
Julius Caesar – Singapore Repertory Theatre

Here & Beyond – Toy Factory
Chinatown Crossings – Drama Box
Alkesah – Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay
The Reunification of the Two Koreas – Theatreworks

Here and Beyond. Photo Credit: Toy Factory

A strong ensemble isn’t necessarily determined by a huge cast, but over the year, we caught a number of performances featuring and highlighting big casts that brought together combinations of strong actors and newer actors, cast to perfection to suit their myriad roles. Toy Factory’s Here and Beyond was one of the first plays this year to impress with its cast, coming together to create impressive shadow puppetry work and revealed more than a few promising faces to watch in the years to come. Meanwhile, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Julius Caesar boasted a cast that handled Shakespeare’s language with aplomb, while making it feel accessible and relevant to a modern audience.

The Reunification of the Two Koreas. Photo credit: crispi photography

Chinatown Crossings wouldn’t be as powerful as it was without its aptly cast trio of adult actors, while even the two child actors were directed properly to bring out Jean Tay’s script to its fullest. Alkesah, as part of Pesta Raya 2018, boasted some of the best actors and singers working in the Malay theatre industry today, each bringing a joyous energy to their performance so rarely felt in any production, while The Reunification of the Two Koreas rounded off Theatreworks’ 2018 season with an all star cast who brought us on the highs and lows of love, occasionally breaking us with their performance.

And the winner is…

Chinatown Crossings

Photo Credit: Drama Box

Chinatown Crossings’ intimacy with its audience works to its advantage – some of the best moments didn’t even involve words, simply actors silently acknowledging each other. Heavily reliant on a capable cast, the cast of Pavan J Singh, Sabrina Sng and Jodi Chan kept audiences engaged every step of the way with their performance. Nailing the heart of the production with a deeply emotional end, Chinatown Crossings was, quite simply, a transcendent work.

Best Actor

Nominees:
Lim Kay Siu for The Father

Adrian Pang for Dragonflies
Saiful Amri for Cerita Cinta

Ghafir Akbar for Guards at the Taj

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The Father. Photo Credit: Crispian Chan.

In the fast changing world of the 2010s, male roles have begun to evolve to showcase increasing sensitivity and textured characterisation. No longer merely ‘tough guy’ type roles defined by physical trials and tribulations, some of our favourite performances from 2018 encapsulated personal and internal struggles dealing with issues of mental health, uncontrollable rage or moral dilemmas. Pangdemonium receives a double nomination this year – the first for veteran actor Lim Kay Siu’s role as a father suffering from dementia in The Father, delivering a performance that goes from cantankerous to heartbreaking, while in Dragonflies, Adrian Pang’s reprised role as a middle-aged father is practically written for him. In this performances, Adrian’s fall from grace is rapid and crushing to watch as he loses everything dear to him, a shadow of his former self.

Cerita Cinta. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

In Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s Cerita Cinta, Saiful Amri plays what initially appears to be an abusive father, but over the course of the play, unveils a tenderness and vulnerability to his character that disturbs with how much sympathy we end up feeling for him. Rounding out our nominees is Ghafir Akbar for his role in Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Guards at the Taj, a character who abides by the rules, and whose one weakness seems to be the all-encompassing platonic bond with his best friend, forcing him into a Hobson’s choice that leaves him only with blood on his hands.

And the winner is…

Ghafir Akbar for Guards at the Taj

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Photo Courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre

In Guards at the Taj, Ghafir, as Humayun, left us chortling with his exasperated responses and enthusiasm for fantasies of the sultan’s harem. But what seals his win was his expression of horror at making an impossible choice, and by the play’s bloody conclusion, all it takes is for Ghafir to stare off into the distance, a mix of emotions playing out on his face as the lights fade to black on his misery, staying with us long after leaving the theatre.

Best Actress

Nominees:
Goh Guat Kian for Underclass

Edith Podesta for Leda and the Rage
Umi Kalthum Ismail for Supervision
Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai for Building A Character

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Building A Character. Photo Credit: W!ld Rice

2018 saw an impressive number of strong female performances across the board, with a particularly high concentration of female voices across both Esplanade’s The Studios 2018 season and W!ld Rice’s 2018 Singapore Theatre Festival, in the form of solo shows. For our nominees, we picked Goh Guat Kian for her devastating performance in The Necessary Stage and Drama Box’s Underclass as a woman who falls into Singapore’s lower depths, with her opening scene of her selling tissue paper to the audience a discomforting one. Edith Podesta consistently creates stellar new work, and Leda and the Swan features a strong performance as a rape victim dealing with the aftermath of trauma, fear and rage muddled into a single, breathtaking drama.

Supervision. Photo Credit: W!ld Rice

Coming out of W!ld Rice’s Singapore Theatre Festival left us with a smorgasbord of strong female performances (honourable mentions go out to Siti Khalijah for An Actress Prepares and Pam Oei for Faghag), but it was Umi Kalthum Ismail, a face rarely seen onstage, who truly impressed us with her performance as an Indonesian maid in Supervision, capturing not only the accent, but the natural fear and loneliness one might feel thousands of miles from home in a foreign place. Meanwhile, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai continues to rise in Building A Character, mining her personal tragedies, frustrations and experiences as a minority actress, and even gets to show off her singing chops and brilliant comedic timing in this affecting fringe show.

And the winner is…

Edith Podesta for Leda and the Rage

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Photo by Crispian Chan, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Edith Podesta left us floored with her vision and performance, her difficult, wordy script effortlessly wielded as rage-filled poetry. Making her trauma visceral through both speech and physicality, her re-emergence from a pool of water is a sublime image of transforming pain into past, no longer a victim, but a survivor, making this hopeful performance a winner in our book.

Best New Script

Nominees:
Underclass – Haresh Sharma
Leda and the Rage – Edith Podesta

Framed, by Adolf – Chong Tze Chien
Supervision – Thomas Lim

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Underclass. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

New scripts are some of the most exciting things to bear witness to each year, as we watch with bated breath which of these have the potential to become modern classics of the Singapore canon. A good script is unafraid to hit hard and question, yet remembers to temper this with emotion and believable characters and lines. Haresh Sharma makes a strong comeback with Underclass, with the topic of inequality now at the forefront of everyone’s minds as he returns to The Necessary Stage’s familiar magic realism and makes biting political remarks while the human element remains firmly in place.

Framed, by Adolf. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Edith Podesta’s Leda and the Rage couldn’t come at a more opportune time, as the #MeToo movement reached a fever pitch, her words reading as rage fueled poetry that comes off as incredibly intelligent, yet fiercely familiar. Chong Tze Chien’s second part of his Hitler trilogy is a clever take on Holocaust drama, a tale of art, scams and unimaginable tragedy with slick writing and characters, its scale epic, horrifying and gripping. Last but not least, Supervision, Thomas Lim’s sophomore play, following Grandmother Tongue, showcases his ever increasing mastery over the three character play, and effectively uses domestic drama as a tool to discuss greater political and social issues prevalent today.

And the winner is…

Supervision by Thomas Lim

Photo Credit: W!ld Rice

Supervision takes a familiar narrative and makes it new again by examining it in the context of how surveillance has permeated our daily life. With fascinating, multilayered characters who each offer up far more than they initially let on, Thomas Lim is fast becoming one of our favourite writers of family drama, with Supervision being the best new example of it this year.

Best Dance

Nominees:
Cut Kafka – Nine Years Theatre + T.H.E Dance Company

X & Y – RAW Moves
Invisible Habitudes – T.H.E Dance Company

We take a brief break from our usual theatre performances to highlight three dance works we enjoyed this year. The Esplanade’s Huayi Festival brought us an unprecedented collaboration between T.H.E Dance Company and Nine Years Theatre with Cut Kafka!, a dance/physical theatre performance recounting the Czech author’s life and works.

RAW Moves - X & Y (Photo by Kaier Tan) 2

X & Y. Photo Credit: Kaier Tan Photography

Conceptually, RAW Moves continued to impress us with their often quirky yet deeply thought provoking works, such as X & Y, which offered up an exploration of intergenerational comparison and competition. T.H.E, in their second nomination this year, drew praise from us for its resonance and exploration of group dynamics and individual identity, pushing its dancers to new physical limits at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre.

And the winner is…

Cut Kafka 

HY18-Cut Kafka_04_Crispian Chan

Photo Credit: Crispian Chan

Cut Kafka! pushed its performers to its limits, creating massive visuals with their bodies and sharing inimitable onstage chemistry and cooperation. A compelling, haunting work, Cut Kafka! sets the stage for even more impressive multi-disciplinary collaborations to come.

Best Musical

Nominees:
Alkesah – Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s Pesta Raya 2018 
Souvenir – Sing’theatre
A $ingapore Carol – W!ld Rice

Souvenir. Photo Credit: Anne Valluy

While 2017 was almost certainly the year of musicals, 2018 was surprisingly bereft of them, with the majority of shows coming from Base Entertainment Asia’s usual selection of Broadway/West End tours, delivering big favourites like Mamma Mia! and Legally Blonde. On the local front, we narrowed down our nominees to just three this year. Alkesah felt like a breath of fresh air and return to the simple joys of storytelling as Elaine Chan worked her musical magic (some of her best work in recent years), while Aidli ‘Alin’ Mosbit shows she’s still one of the best directors around as her colourful cast dances around big animal puppets and sings catchy numbers one cannot help but smile at.

A $ingapore Carol. Photo Credit: Albert Lim K.S.

Sing’theatre went back to basics with a simple yet big hearted production of Souvenir, with Leigh McDonald shining in a single, off key operatic medley that left the audience in stitches, while Hossan Leong brought the production home with a pertinent message about chasing one’s passions and dreams. Towards the end of the year, W!ld Rice’s annual pantomime was their most Christmas appropriate one yet, taking on Dickens with A $ingapore Carol and delivering stunning visuals and an endearing cast to bring it all to life.

And the winner is…

Alkesah

Photo Credit: Jack Yam

In a year with few musicals, Alkesah emerged the clear winner as one that embraced joy, good storytelling, good music, and a cast that allowed themselves to get completely caught up in the fun. Alkesah is a shining light in a world of theatre that chooses to focus on so much darkness, and is escapism given form, a modern classic suitable for all ages that’s a delight from its earworm of an opening number to its happy ending.

Best Play

Nominees:
Underclass – The Necessary Stage
Framed, by Adolf – The Finger Players
Julius Caesar – Singapore Repertory Theatre

Cerita Cinta – akulah bimbo SAKTI
Guards at the Taj – Singapore Repertory Theatre

Framed, by Adolf. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

The year in plays has been incredibly dark, with most productions to have emerged dealing with pitch black subject matter to leave one reeling. Be it the Holocaust or inequality, domestic violence or bloody massacres, this has been a year where plays became bolder than ever at tackling the realm of the unspoken in a time where social justice needs to be championed more than ever.

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Underclass. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

The Necessary Stage and Drama Box leads off our set of nominees with Underclass, timely and urgent with its message about the oft forgotten sector of society we leave behind as our skyscrapers rise and income gap increases with each passing year. Julius Caesar was no doubt one of Singapore Repertory Theatre’s best editions of Shakespeare in the Park yet, with strong performances, clever use of tech, and its fierce political relevance. The Finger Players impressed us with Framed, by Adolf, boasting a production that would almost certainly be considered a blockbuster theatre performance – set against the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, Framed was a gripping thriller that leaves one paranoid by its end and its portrayal of atrocities and its world of lies.

Guards at the Taj. Photo Courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre

akulah bimbo SAKTI, Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s personal project, returned this year with a new production of Cerita Cinta, an unusual domestic drama that quite simply, was about the daily lives of a family. Yet as normal as it seemed on the outside, its dark underbelly rears its ugly head quickly enough, the performances horrifying yet strangely understandable. Wrapping up the nominees on a high note is Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Guards at the Taj, an intimate two hander that exceeded expectations with brilliant acting and a storyline that pushes audiences to their emotional limits, with high production value and pitch perfect direction from Jo Kukathas that captures every nuance in Rajiv Joseph’s harrowing script.

And the winner is…

Cerita Cinta

Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

This was a tough fight between Guards at the Taj and Cerita Cinta, but ultimately, Cerita Cinta won out for its sheer vision in terms of sensorial staging, with smell and sound incorporated into the staging that added to the overarching creepiness that got under our skin. Effendy’s direction brings out the best in his cast, as we watch this tortured family live out their lives in fear and a perverse sense of togetherness that sheds disturbing light on the issues of domestic abuse, and as we put it,  Cerita Cinta is “harrowing, affecting theatre”, a pitch black work that touched a private part of our souls and left us shivering with fear and wonder at its sheer power.

Summary of Winners:
Best Immersive Dining:
Adventures in Grimmsneyland
Best Immersive Theatre:
Chinatown Crossings
Best Ensemble:
Chinatown Crossings
Best Actor:
Ghafir Akbar (Guards at the Taj)
Best Actress:
Edith Podesta (Leda and the Rage)
Best New Script:
Supervision
Best Dance:
Cut Kafka!
Best Musical:
Alkesah
Best Play:
Cerita Cinta

Bakchormeeboy wishes all readers a Happy New Year. Stay tuned for the 2019 season, and expect the site to feature more in-depth stories and arts coverage at its best as we bring you closer to theatre like no one else can. 

 

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