Arts Comedy Review Singapore Theatre

★★★★☆Review: Fat Kids Are Harder to Kidnap 2021 by How Drama

Harder, better, faster, stronger.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If there’s one show in Singapore that encapsulates that saying, it has to be How Drama’s Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap. Playing since 2008, the concept behind the Fringe-ready show is simple – a group of actors perform 31 short sketches and playlets in the span of an hour. The twist? It is entirely up to the audience to decide the order in which they are performed.

What results is probably one of the most adrenaline-filled hours in any local theatre, with the cast, all dressed in colourful workout gear and sports shoes, raring to go and ready to take on the challenge. Audience members are given the full list of scenes, before descending into a delicious chaos to the entire process, yelling out the sketch they want to see next, as the cast jump up and grab the corresponding number strung up in a row behind them. Each time the cast yells ‘next!’, the process repeats until all 31 plays are complete, while a digital timer in the back counts down.

This year however, things are slightly different for the team. Under pandemic conditions, with limited audience numbers and restrictions on certain live elements, it would be all too easy for any other group to present a lesser version of the show. But as masters of improv, How Drama have successfully circumvented their limitations, and produced a work that’s just as good, if not even better, than previous iterations, like how every audience member is given a dry erase board and marker to vote, as an alternative to just yelling the number.

Co-written by Melissa Sim and Jeremy Au Yong, and directed by Melissa, this year, the majority of the punchlines revolve around the coronavirus, covering everything from friendships under threat due to the changing social gathering numbers, to the KTV fiasco leading to Phase 2 (HA). What makes these sketches work so well is how fresh they feel, thanks to the completely unexpected topics they combine and the often absurd extremes they take each issue to. The already memed-to-death multi-ministry taskforce press conferences, for example, becomes an expertly choreographed game of literal turning heads set to the Blue Danube. Meanwhile, How Drama’s take on sports in the pandemic sees them emphasising proper sanitisation as an Olympic sport, while their classic Dead People Don’t Move sketch gets an update, passing commentary on how safe distancing measures don’t discriminate – even amongst the dead.

Even outside of coronavirus headlines, other issues aren’t safe from parody either, with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son taking the spotlight in one scene, and an unusual mashup of hit TV shows Masterchef and Tiger King in another. The spate of racist incidents in Singapore was also prime material, with the controversial cardboard standee of a Malay couple’s wedding photo the subject of a quiz show, and the gong-banging neighbour a feature in an ad by a property agent.

The success of Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap is dependent entirely on the cast’s quick thinking, and how well-rehearsed they are that they can adapt to any sequence of sketches, and overcome tech difficulties to ensure they always finish within the time limit. Even without being able to sing live, innovative solutions from the team make it hard to notice the absence. As a whole, the cast has fantastic chemistry with each other – even with the addition of new member Miriam Cheong, all six cast members (Ross Nasir, Pavan J Singh, Nicholas Bloodworth, Victoria Chen and Vester Ng) onstage are evidently comfortable, and play off each other’s energy fantastically.

Each cast member also gets their time in the spotlight, taking centrestage in various sketches, be it Nicholas Bloodworth’s spot-on Donald Trump impression, or Vester Ng’s impeccable dance routines, in a much appreciated follow up from the TikTok trends he had previously performed in their Zoom adaptation of the show. In a way, Fat Kids rewards loyal audience members who come back to the show over and over again, giving us an opportunity to follow the actors on a journey, always presenting newer, improved versions of their specialised talents. And with their riotous energy felt throughout the theatre, audience members can’t help but remain engaged and willing to respond with equal enthusiasm; even with just 50 people, it feels like a full house.

Fat Kids may have been going on for almost 13 years now, but is still going strong with their winning formula and can-do spirit, with each edition feeling like a breath of fresh air. Ending off on a high energy rendition of this year’s ‘Dance of the Nation’, there’s no doubt that How Drama has become something of a national treasure, one of the best comedy fringe shows to have been born here in Singapore, and a necessary reminder that we can and should take time to laugh, with this much-needed spark of hope and joy amidst these dark times.

Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap 2021 ran from 13th to 15th August 2021 at Wild Rice @ Funan.

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