Arts Interview online Preview Singapore The Banter

The Banter: Hossan Leong and Derrick Chew unravel The Curious Case of The Missing Peranakan Treasure

Does digital theatre truly represent the future stage? Following on from their presentation of Murder at Mandai Camp – The Case Reopens, Sight Lines Entertainment is back for a brand new, family-friendly digital mystery in The Curious Case of The Missing Peranakan Treasure. Not only will they be teaming up with Hossan Leong’s Double Confirm Productions, but they’ll also work together with some of Singapore’s most beloved actors, and a true Singaporean icon – Raffles Hotel.

Directed by Hossan Leong and written by Jean Tay, The Curious Case of The Missing Peranakan Treasure sees audience members take on the role of a detective, as they get to the bottom of who stole a priceless treasure from the Raffles Hotel. Filmed entirely on location at Raffles Hotel Singapore with 360-degree virtual reality (VR) cameras (thanks to tech company Xctuality), audience members will also meet various other guests and staff, each one a prime suspect in their own right, as played by Audrey Luo, Dwayne Lau, Frances Lee, Julius Foo Pavan J. Singh, Siti Khalijah and Hossan Leong himself.

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It was so exciting because it felt like we were moving into the future of theatre.

You’d think that a project of such a scale would be tough to pull off, but as we found out from director/cast member Hossan Leong and Executive Producer Derrick Chew, so much of the process went off without a hitch, much to their surprise and relief. “It’s been a very fun process, and I was so excited to do something different,” says Hossan. “You know, I grew up with all these choose your own adventure games, and more recently, there was ‘Bandersnatch’ from Netflix’s Black Mirror. It was so exciting because it felt like we were moving into the future of theatre. We’ve had some really generous sponsors too, and with Derrick handling production, it really allowed me to put all my efforts into the creative side.”

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Perhaps part of the reason for how smooth it all went was Hossan’s own gung ho attitude when it came to embracing technology, boldly accepting the challenge of being an early adopter and just running with it. “Even at the start of the pandemic, I didn’t know how to use Zoom, but I went ahead and called up some collaborators, and we ended up creating a Zoom talk show,” says Hossan. “We somehow made it work, and it was because we didn’t want to get caught on the wrong foot and scramble to catch up.”

“I approached Raffles Hotel with the idea and thereafter pitched it to them, to which they were very accommodating and receptive.” Says Hossan

“As for how we got started on this project, well, Derrick sent me a link to check out The Future Stage, and we colluded on this idea to set a mystery in a hotel. I approached Raffles Hotel with the idea and thereafter pitched it to them, to which they were very accommodating and receptive,” Hossan continues. “It was just the initial stages we weren’t sure about, because we were so reliant on getting grants, and could only do so much commitment and involve this many people without confirmation just yet. But eventually, we did get it, and made it work even within the tight budget!”

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“When Raffles Hotel said yes, they didn’t just end it there, but were also very supportive, and they’re the most open and generous contributors I’ve worked with so far, from getting uniforms to props, to a presidential suite to do our shoot.”

“It’s the job of the producer to take the risk, and assess the potential of such an investment. We take care of the team, and push and think up new ways to make things work, and really, it’s to innovate to bring the money and funding in and do business,” says Derrick. “When Raffles Hotel said yes, they didn’t just end it there, but were also very supportive, and they’re the most open and generous contributors I’ve worked with so far, from getting uniforms to props, to a presidential suite to do our shoot. We had some late night shoots to accommodate the traffic at the hotel, and I’m amazed we somehow managed to finish in less than the estimated time, especially with how our films had to be done in one take.”

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On the significance of Raffles Hotel as a location, Hossan explains how much they’ve always been present in the arts. “After they had their restoration, the arts was everywhere in this building! And even during the COVID period, they collaborated with some of our local companies to offer up theatre shows to watch online from the comfort of the suite, and promote the arts to their guests,” says Hossan.

“With this show, it’s really seeing the hospitality and arts industries coming together, and using tech to give a little something to those who miss staying at the Raffles Hotel. Raffles has always prided itself for delivering on an experience, and with this, we’re developing a very good working relationship with them.”

“It’s been such an enjoyable process with the skill level of our cast and production team, who’ve been nothing but professional, capturing the era of the piece, the essence of the show, and making sure everything runs smoothly.”

For Derrick, this collaboration with Raffles Hotel marks another triumph for Sight Lines, and showcases the possibilities offered by The Future Stage. “It was a good opportunity for us to explore more gamification elements. Playwright Jean Tay and I had always wanted to do a site-specific mystery, and this is our way of still making it happen despite the restrictions,” says Derrick. “And it’s been such an enjoyable process with the skill level of our cast and production team, who’ve been nothing but professional, capturing the era of the piece, the essence of the show, and making sure everything runs smoothly.”

“And on the creative front, it’s been so exciting to have all the ideas flowing, and to be able to volley them with each other, consolidating and expanding on them as we worked on it,” adds Hossan. “Like say the original song we have for the show, titled ‘I’ll See You Again’. It takes inspiration from Noel Coward’s song of the same name, and he himself was a renowned visitor of the Raffles Hotel. The song acts as a way to tie things together because of its lyrics, and all I had to do was write out the lyrics, send it over to Julian Wong, and the next morning he had already sent over a demo, and it was perfect. Even August Lum’s soundtrack, it’s almost like a movie where every character has a theme – we’re trying to put it on Spotify because it’s so beautiful!”

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“Besides appealing to Singaporeans who might not know the hotel, or have never even stepped foot into it, I’d say our other primary audience would be overseas viewers who haven’t had the chance to return to Singapore to stay at the hotel, and provide them a way of revisiting it digitally.”

On the target audience of the piece, Hossan hopes that the concept appeals to viewers from all walks of life. “This show talks a lot about relationships, from love lost, to family and friends. It’s more than just a mystery, and there’s so many links to the past, unfolding to talk about history and nostalgia,” says Hossan. “Even though it’s a game, we’re looking to bring in people who don’t necessarily fall into the hardcore gaming circles, perhaps the more frequent theatre patrons. Besides appealing to Singaporeans who might not know the hotel, or have never even stepped foot into it, I’d say our other primary audience would be overseas viewers who haven’t had the chance to return to Singapore to stay at the hotel, and provide them a way of revisiting it digitally.”

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“It helps that we’ve got SISTIC on board to help us market the show, which helps out reach out to theatre audiences, while Raffles also has their own database to reach,” Derrick adds. “Ultimately, tech is just the enabler to help tell stories. And with how it continues to develop and improve, it can only better serve the story’s intent. Raffles Hotel is a great step forward, and we’re hoping that from here, we continue to explore this as a medium, with more collaborations and commissions as we develop the form and engage audiences.

“Much like Murder at Mandai Camp, the aim of this show is accessibility, as a way to nurture audiences, using the language and vocabulary of theatre to ease them into it, and perhaps, establish it as a legitimate medium, something I’m sure is the future,” Derrick concludes. “Yes, there are people still uncertain and we’re competing with all these other streaming services, but that’s the challenge we take on as early adopters of the form, to be at the forefront, to educate people about it, and let audiences bask in the wonder it brings.”

Photo Credit: Double Confirm Productions, Sight Lines Entertainment and
Raffles Hotel Singapore

The Curious Case of The Missing Peranakan Treasure runs from 28th March to 30th June 2021 online. Tickets available from SISTIC

Participants can log onto the website to watch the virtual interactive play anywhere and anytime between 1st April to 30th June 2021. Successful mystery solvers will receive an e-voucher for purchases at Raffles Boutique with no minimum spend.

Enjoy special ‘Treasures of Raffles’ – Experience & Play ‘daycation’ package and
the Stay & Play staycation package from Raffles Hotel here

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