Arts Preview Singapore Theatre

Wild Rice announces final three shows of their 2022 season, with a restaging of Animal Farm, a new play by Alfian Sa’at, and their annual pantomime

Wild Rice has officially announced the final three shows of its 2022 season: Animal Farm (playing from 18 August 2022), Pulau Ujong / Island at the End (from 15 September 2022) and Pinocchio (from 17 November 2022). All three shows will be performed in The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre, Wild Rice’s main-stage venue in its performing arts complex in Funan.

From August, Wild Rice proudly presents its award-winning 20th Anniversary production of Animal Farm, adapted from George Orwell’s classic novel about a farmyard of animals banding together to overthrow their farmer – only to discover that populist ideals can be easily corrupted when power and privilege enter the equation.

Directed by Ivan Heng, from a script by Ian Wooldridge, Animal Farm premiered in 2002 at Raffles Hotel’s Jubilee Hall. It was last staged in Singapore at the Drama Centre Theatre in 2010. This new version will star Erwin Shah Ismail, Tia Guttensohn, Dwayne Lau, Audrey Luo, Vester Ng and Suhaili Safari.

“20 years after we first made waves and headlines with our version of Animal Farm, we thought it was about time to share this classic production with a whole new generation of audiences,” says Ivan Heng, Wild Rice’s Founding Artistic Director. “As you will discover when you join us at the theatre, Orwell’s masterpiece hasn’t aged a day. In this tumultuous age shaped by unrest, inequity and a literal plague, Animal Farm continues to remind us of the corrupting influence of power and how easily democracies can morph into dictatorships.”

Beyond sealing Wild Rice’s reputation as one of the country’s leading theatre companies, this landmark production also flew the Singapore flag proudly at arts festivals in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. “Animal Farm is near and dear to my heart for so many reasons,” Heng continues. “Chief amongst them is the fact that this show put us on the map, quite literally, and made people in Singapore and across the world sit up and take notice of Wild Rice and the important work we do, the vital stories we tell.”

In September, Wild Rice will stage the world premiere of award-winning playwright Alfian Sa’at’s Pulau Ujong / Island at the End, a piece of documentary theatre that bravely confronts the ongoing climate crisis through a Singaporean lens. “I’m not a particularly outdoorsy person but, during the pandemic, I found myself itching to go out and not live so much in my head,” says Alfian. “I started exploring nature trails, which got me asking questions about why so many of us are so estranged from nature, and why we think of it as something separate from our lives, something to be managed or exploited.”

This prompted Alfian to conduct research into the climate emergency, which he describes as “the most urgent and defining issue of our current era”, resulting in Pulau Ujong. Featuring interviews with climate scientists, botanists, zoologists, environmental historians and activists, this soul-stirring new play grapples with the reality of eco-anxiety and climate grief. At the same time, it invites audiences to re-examine their relationship with nature by offering more-than-human perspectives, from Singapore’s last tiger to zoo mascot Ah Meng.

“I believe that art can communicate certain things to us that headlines and statistics cannot. I don’t want to just sound alarms, because I know how easy it is for that to turn into background noise,” Alfian explains. “Instead, I’d like for audiences to re-evaluate their relationship with nature, and to re-enchant themselves with its miracles and mysteries.”

The name Pulau Ujong, or “Island at the End”, is one of the oldest recorded names for Singapore. The play then imagines what it was like at the beginning, before humans started transforming the landscape, looking into the past and the present, in order to explore the island’s fate in the future. Pulau Ujong / Island at the End will be directed by Edith Podesta, who will be directing an ensemble cast that includes Al-Matin Yatim, Ryan Ang, Koh Wan Ching, Krish Natarajan and Siti Khalijah Zainal.

Finally, Wild Rice ends off the year in November with their annual pantomime, this time tackling Pinocchio, adapting it as an eye-popping, family-friendly new musical about a puppet who longs to become a real boy. This proudly Singaporean adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic Italian fairy tale is a hilarious, heartwarming celebration of family, friendship and the importance of being true to yourself.

Pinocchio reunites three core members of the creative dream team that first delighted audiences with Peter Pan in Serangoon Gardens (2019) – playwright Thomas Lim, lyricist Joel Tan and composer Julian Wong. “As a story, Pinocchio interests me because it examines why people – not just children – tell lies. Some tell lies to get what they want. Some tell lies to protect others from the painful truth,” says Lim. “But I wanted to take a good look at the lies we tell about ourselves because we are afraid that other people will not like or love us for who we really are.”

This brand-new holiday musical also features the talents of multiple pantomime veterans – from director Pam Oei, who helmed Wild Rice’s Mama White Snake (2017) and The Emperor’s New Clothes (2015) to critical acclaim, to a fabulous cast led by Mae Elliessa, Ebi Shankara, Siti Khalijah Zainal and Dwayne Lau. For the first time in three years, the production will be welcoming the First Stage Kids back on stage. Aged 5 to 12, the child performers have long been a highlight of Wild Rice’s holiday musicals, and are finally back after the easing of pandemic restrictions.

“Truth be told, Pinocchio is the perfect way for all of us – young and old, big and small – to end this year on a high,” promises Oei. “I’m so excited to work with the incredible team we’ve assembled to reinvigorate this beloved classic for Singapore audiences: to fill it with magic and good cheer and laughter and joy!”

Animal Farm runs from 18th August 2022, Pulau Ujong / Island at the End runs from 15th September 2022, and Pinocchio runs from 17th November 2022, all at the The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre. More information available here

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