Arts Interview Preview Singapore Theatre

Momotaro and the Magnificent Peach: An Interview with Director and Playwright Dwayne Lau

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about a peach? In the case of Wild Rice, they’re presenting you with a big, in fact, a Magnificent peach this holiday season that’s sure to chase the pandemic blues away, with their brand new year-end pantomime Momotaro and the Magnificent Peach.

Adapted from the Japanese folk tale of Momotaro, the musical theatre show takes a few more liberties with the classic story where a boy born from a peach goes on a hero’s journey. Written and directed by Dwayne Lau, expect everything from anime, J-pop and traditional Japanese fan dancing, to popular video games like Pokémon and Street Fighter featuring as part of the family-friendly show, all while incorporating an all-important message of environmentalism along the way.

With a stellar cast of Ryan Ang as Momotaro, with Audrey Luo, Siti Khalijah Zainal, Vester Ang, Greg Sim and Sharon Sum, you can expect nothing but fun in typical riotous Wild Rice style. What else can we look forward to? Hear from Dwayne Lau himself, as you read our full interview with the playwright/director of Momotaro below:

Bakchormeeboy: Following The Amazing Celestial Race, this is already the second time in 2021 that you’ll be writing a play for Wild Rice, except this time around, you’ll also be co-directing it. While you’re no stranger to theatre, how would you say your experience working so closely with Wild Rice over the years has prepared you to take the creative lead on Momotaro? 

Dwayne: I think I’ve learnt to understand the level of excellence that the Wild Rice team put in in every show that they do. While I’ve mostly been involved as an actor, I’ve always been interested and kept my eyes open to watch and learn from the directors, writers, creatives, production teams and the processes that go on to put up these shows. Also, knowing that the bosses trust me enough to collaborate and create helped me build confidence to take on these mammoth appointments. 

Bakchormeeboy: The cast of Momotaro are some of your closest friends, many of whom you’ve worked with before. Tell us about the casting process for Momotaro and what made you or the team decide on these cast members for the show? 

Dwayne: After we decided on the story, we looked at the characters, scenes and the demands of the show. It’s NOT an easy show. Fights, puppetry, flying, rapid quick-changes, multiple characters switches and a 90min-fast-paced-show with no interval. The cast needed to have stamina, versatility and have the ability to take on these roles. 

Audrey and Siti are no strangers to the Wild Rice family and Pantos. And they’ve proven to be excellent performers on stage, game to take on anything thrown at them and they deliver well. They were perfect for the roles created – The Villain, President Oni and his Sidekick, Captain Kit as well as the Old Man and Woman. 

Sharon, Vester, Ryan and Greg came for auditions and impressed us with their performances and the passion for the roles. Ryan came in costume, Sharon spontaneously sprawled on the floor when she was asked to improvise being an egg frying in a pan, Vester even shaved his beard for the auditions! We wanted passionated actors that could move, had stamina and could deliver their roles well. I’ve worked with Ryan and Sharon on LIAOZHAI ROCKS by The Theatre Practice. It was a mentally and physically demanding show. So I knew they could deliver! I’ve watched Vester perform a few times and his energy on stage was riveting. Greg was the newest cast member who gave a really good audition. We knew he was also an excellent dancer and had some performance experience back in the US. 

On the whole we needed to make sure the whole team of 6 had good synergy both on and off stage! And I think so far we did pretty well! They are a riot!  

Bakchormeeboy: What was the decision behind choosing to adapt the legend of Momotaro, and why did it strike you as prime material for a pantomime? 

Dwayne: I’ve always wanted to use Asian stories and see where and how we could spin our own twists. After all, pantomimes are usually based on familiar tales and legends. So why not something closer to home?  Also, it was Bright Ong, our puppetry and movement director who put the idea to Glen, who then presented it to me. 

I’ve previously read Momotaro before and have watched a version of it on stage. And in my further research I realised that there was also a cult film version of it produced in China eons ago! 

It had the all the elements of a good story / pantomime – good versus evil, talking animals, family, friendships, comedy, adventure. Also, because the raw material was a very short tale, it gave us the space to create and imagine beyond what the original tale was. 

Bakchormeeboy: Momotaro is set to take inspiration from anime and J-pop – are you a fan of Japanese culture yourself? 

Dwayne: I’ve always loved Japanese culture but fell in love even more with it on my maiden trip to Japan with Siti K two years ago. We loved everything! The people, the food, the shops, the clothes, the culture, the aesthetics! It’s a feast for all the senses! 

Bakchormeeboy: How will these elements present themselves in the show?

Dwayne: Through songs, through the set, through familiar anime phrases and Japanese tunes and pop culture references. I have watched several of the cult favourites like Studio Ghibli’s – Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery service and at the same time grew up with tv shows like The Power Rangers, Ultraman, Doraemon. While I’m not a hardcore fan or the favourites like Naruto, Dragon Slayer, I know many friends who are and I’ve bugged them through the course of creating Momotaro to bounce off ideas for the show.  

I did however, get some of the influences from a Japanese Melodrama Medical comedy series Dr. X which in itself had such wonderful elements of comedy and drama, funny characters and heart-warming storylines. Also, it’s not just the Anime and J-Pop, there is Kabuki, Bunraku Puppetry influence  as well as other Easter eggs in the show.

Bakchormeeboy: Beyond the original story of a brave young boy saving his village, this version of Momotaro seems to carry an environmental message with it as well. Is the production itself practicing what it preaches by ensuring an environmentally-friendly show? Or is it more a case of calling out bigger organisations responsible for environmental pollution? 

Dwayne: We are doing our best for sure! Our costumes, designed and made by Tube Gallery have pieces that incorporate recycled material and pre-loved fabric into their designs. Some of the set pieces are recycled and are now repurposed and designed for Momotaro. We have been collecting cardboard, plastic bottles, boxes, etc and these will be used as part of our set and also to create a surprise element that will be revealed later in the show! 

Momotaro is a show that is calling out to everyone to be more conscious, not just the bigger organisations. It’s a show that reminds everyone that a little goes a long way and that everyone has a part to play. Sustainability and making better choices is not something that we just teach the kids in schools. Sometimes, we adults also need that reminder.  

Bakchormeeboy: Wild Rice’s pantomimes are many, and have always included music and fun songs, but few have really ended up reaching the same iconic status of say, Broadway standards. Why do you think this is so, or should it even be a concern? 

Dwayne: There will always be some hits and misses! I think it is really subjective. Many people have always asked if it was my dream to be on Broadway. I can’t say I haven’t desired that either! But while being on Broadway seems to be the pinnacle and Gold standard for many, I think Singapore has its own gems that we can be proud of! I mean what IS this standard after all? –  Songs with a good hooks, captivating story lines, extravagant sets, A-List Performers, Triple-threats, excellent story lines? Many of our local shows do have those. But yes, perhaps sometimes we don’t have the luxury of all of those elements in one show. But that said, I have watched stuff on Broadway where I came out going “meh… it was okay, no biggie!” 

I don’t think there is a need to compare with that of Broadway (although it is often inevitable) But what I feel is important is that a successful show is one with good pacing, good story, good heart, one that entertains, and transports the audience to another world and also one that makes them to leave talking and raving about the show and humming the songs.  

Bakchormeeboy: You’ve been in the theatre scene for some time now. What’s next for you in terms of your career goals? 

Dwayne: I’d love to create more original work – be it writing, directing, devising or all together. I love working with people and coaching so that’s something that I would want to do especially with folks who want to take a stab at the industry. I love to see people come out of their shells, push boundaries and do things they’ve never done before. I was inspired to do theatre at the age of 6! So I believe strongly in creating work for the Younger Generation and hopefully inspire them.   

Bakchormeeboy: Amongst your cast members, there’s Greg Sim, who was a member of the latest batch of Young & Wild. Being an artist in these times can be daunting, especially from newer performers. Do you think the future is bright or bleak for the performing arts, and whether there is enough space to nurture and accommodate the next generation of artists? 

Dwayne: There are several programs that invest in creating works and opportunities for young actors. E.g. The Young Company, The Finger Players, Young and Wild (which Greg Sim is from and is how we got connected to him) These are excellent programs that help connect people to the industry. I know theatre companies and directors that are constantly on the lookout to cast and work with young and fresh talents, giving them opportunities. The National Arts Council has also been giving out grants over the years to encourage the creation of new work. I think these are excellent opportunities. 

However it is a two way road. The individual needs to be hungry and go out to take hold of these opportunities, or create his or her own opportunities and not just passively wait for things to fall into their laps. An example is the collective – BITESIZE. This group of 4 musical theatre graduates have been creating their own work and have already had a successful digital production Monster in The Mirror and now even have their own studio space. This kind of passion and hunger is commendable and inspiring! It’s a good reminder as one who has been around longer to keep things fresh and always be on the lookout to create opportunities and keep learning. 

The climate seems to be shifting especially with the pivoting to digital media, so this also creates new ground for talents and creators. While things seem bleak at this point in time because of the current pandemic, the theatre family are a resilient bunch who is constantly adapting and reinventing. Because we believe with our hearts that Art is and will always be essential. 

Bakchormeeboy: Wild Rice has been focusing on either European or East Asian stories and legends to adapt for their pantomimes. Do you ever see a Southeast Asian story as possible material for a panto? 

Dwayne: Yeah! Why not! In fact, we don’t need to look so far. We have many fun stories and legends like Badang, The Legend of the Swordfish, The legends behind the formation of our surrounding islands and many others. We even have folk tales from our neighbours like the adventures of Sang Kancil in Malaysia! These gems of stories that can be twisted and turned on their heads and make for great material.

Bakchormeeboy: What do you hope audiences will feel after watching Momotaro? 

Dwayne: I hope they will feel elated, having been transported to another world, going on this adventure with the characters. I hope they will resonate with the themes of friendship, family and heroism as well as standing up for what they believe in. I hope that they will leave wanting to make better, sustainable choices for a brighter shared future.

Photo Credit: Wild Rice

Momotaro and the Magnificent Peach runs from 25th November 2021 at Wild Rice @ Funan. Tickets available from SISTIC.

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