Arts Comedy Review Singapore Theatre

★★★★☆ Review: Chestnuts – Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse

Singapore’s longest running parody returns with a vengeance after 7 years, spoofing everything from Marvel to The LKY Musical.

CategoryScore (out of 10)
Direction (Jonathan Lim)7
Script (Jonathan Lim)7
Performance (Jonathan Lim, Judy Ngo, Audrey Luo, Timothy Wan, Nelson Chia)8
Music (Elaine Chan)8
Sound Design (Bob Wong)7
Multimedia Design (Genevieve Peck)7
Lighting Design (Tai Zi Feng)7
Costumes / Make-up / Hair (Luo Ruo / Sha Shamsi (Designer) Laea Hidayah (Artist) / Muhammad Fadli bin Abdul Rahman)8
Props Design (Fiona Lim)7
Choreography (Andy Benjamin Cai)8
Total74/100 (74%)
Final Score:★★★★☆

Ever since their last edition in 2015, Jonathan Lim and the Chestnuts team have accumulated a mountain (some might even say a multiverse) of material that’s ripe for parodying. With such a rich treasure trove of jokes, sketches and puns that cover everything from notorious local ‘celebrities’ to the film and theatre scene, Chestnuts brings it all together in their newest show Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse, where audiences are treated to a chaotic collection of sketches that leave no stone unturned.

Loosely inspired by the emergence of the multiverse into mainstream consciousness, thanks to the release of both Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All At Once in 2022, Sibeh Strange is still very much the same Chestnuts that audiences have grown to know and love, with no holds barred humour daring to tackle and touch on issues bordering on taboo. Knowing that the majority of their new audiences belong to a new generation however, Chestnuts is kind enough to open the show with a trigger warning, reminding us all that there will be potentially offensive material that pokes fun at all races and genders (in their own cheeky style of course).

Born from the mind of director-playwright-performer Jonathan Lim, Chestnuts is also the kind of show will be fully appreciated by an audience member who voraciously consumes pop culture and current affairs. There is a degree of intelligence and awareness that is demanded of by audience members, who cannot go into a show completely clueless about the source material. But thankfully, most of the sketches cover relatively mainstream events that the general public should already know about, alongside a few more niche topics to do with the local arts scene and specific theatre shows, making most sketches relatively accessible.

Throughout the show, the Chestnuts cast embody and specialise in certain character archetypes, each one well-matched to bring on the laughs. Jonathan Lim often plays more typical masculine figures, or subverts it completely by appearing in drag, while Audrey Luo tends to take on younger female roles, and of the cast, has the strongest voice. One of the stronger scenes featuring them both is a dual parody of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spliced with Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, leading to a hilarious spoof of ‘Under The Sea’ while tackling racism.

Both Nelson Chia and Timothy Wan may be new to the Chestnuts family, but as their first foray into full on comedy, they show off a wickedly funny set of comedic chops and a keen ability to exaggerate their performances into filling out their larger than life characters. There is clear camaraderie and chemistry between them and the rest of the cast, and a highlight would be when they play shamed busker Jeff Ng (Nelson) meeting mile high evangelist Jonathan Neo (Timothy) as fellow ‘cancelled’ members of society, and clash when they vie for the spotlight. Both Nelson and Timothy embody their roles in all their quirks and unique voices, while Chestnuts also does especially well with audience interaction here, making full use of the lighting, and even entering the audience seating area to close the gap between us and the performers.

Finally, Chestnuts regular Judy Ngo often steals the show either as a hapless auntie, or a draconic woman in power, either playing Michelle Yeoh, or former Board of Film Censors chairman Amy Chua. In the latter role, not only does she serve to bring deadpan humour to end off the otherwise campy and naughty Pondan News Asia segment, she even showcases her ‘fun’ side by performing a TikTok dance while maintaining a straight face. This is one character Chestnuts knows you can’t get enough of, and milks her in several other scenes too, including their ‘Theatre in 10’ segment, summarising the year in theatre, where she occasionally pops up to exasperatedly tell the audience how certain plays would obviously be slapped with a mature advisory.

Speaking of theatre, Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse even goes so far as to dedicate an extended parody of The LKY Musical. This is one segment in particular that needs audience members to have watched the restaging this year to fully grasp all the jokes, and for Chestnuts, they go all in to almost every major scene, calling it out for being a ‘sausage fest’, the underutilisation of Kit Chan’s singing voice, logical errors and suspensions of disbelief, and even how the most memorable songs end up being the various National Anthems Singapore goes through over the years. This is the prime example of Chestnuts at their best, when they play to their strengths and deliver on the nose parody that reveals highly observant, scathing truths with good humour, and even ends off on a high energy, well-choreographed group dance number with all five performers in sync.

However, considering the sheer amount of content that Jonathan tries to squeeze into the show, Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse is in need of tighter curation, with a runtime that stretches into three hours (including intermission). Rarely does any parody show last that long, and while the jokes keep the show mostly buoyed, by the second half, there is a clear sense of fatigue in the audience, particularly with sketches that feel more like filler or less relevant, such as a Bohemian Rhapsody parody in the wake of the Queen’s death, a series of repetitive Doctor Strange parodies, or spoofing ‘I’ll Be There For You’ with the influx of ‘Karens’ Singapore has encountered in recent times.

Nonetheless, it’s impressive how the cast keeps up the energy throughout the entire show, and for the pace to never let up. There is something charming about how Chestnuts remains humble in their almost bare set, and keeps our attention almost entirely on the script and the performances at hand, or using props like a sparkly streamers waved at the end of a stick to become Doctor Strange’s portals, showing that it is not the cost of production, but the degree of how engaging content is that really matters. When they do utilise technology, they also ensure it is not just for show and well-integrated, often interacting with Genevieve Peck’s multimedia scenery during sketches. These are also used during scene transitions to make blackouts feel less disruptive, often feeling like short commercial breaks in between, with their own mini sketches or standalone jokes.

Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse may sometimes feel like a journey, but if anything, you can rest assured that you’ll be joined by highly entertaining companions along the way. Chestnuts is an institution of the Singapore comedy scene, and shows that regardless of how times have changed, a winning formula and truthful, hard-hitting comedy always comes through. Parody as an art form is often time-sensitive and difficult to pull off well, and who knows when Chestnuts will return for yet another show? This is a labour of love you should catch before they go back to their own respective projects, and enjoy the end of the year with good cheer, as Chestnuts puts 2022 in perspective, and lets us look back on the weird and wonderful months we’ve had, re-presented and primed for laughter.

Chestnuts – Sibeh Strange in the Multiverse runs from 25th November to 11th December 2022 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC

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