Arts Review Singapore Theatre

Bakchormeeboy Awards 2022: The Year of Resilience and Resurgence

2022 was a milestone year for theatre, in the sense that at long last, after over two years of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting doors on indoor venues, a slow but sure trickle of audiences began to fill seats again. Starting with limited trial audience numbers, to a full fledged re-opening in the second half of the year, the arts saw a massive resurgence in programming, with some dubbing it ‘revenge programming’ for the sheer number of events happening everywhere all at once.

This was also the year we introduced our new Matrix System, by which we made our reviews and star ratings much more transparent and clear via individual scores for each element in the productions reviewed. While garnering some interesting responses and feedback, we will continue to use the Matrix System in future, and strive to continue writing fair, objective and critical reviews to provide a repository of work and record of the local arts scene.

But we all know what you’re here for. So without further ado, here’s Bakchormeeboy’s 2023 Theatre Awards, showcasing the best in theatre across categories this year:

Best Costumes

Wild Rice’s Tartuffe. Photo Credit: Ruey Loon

Nominees:
Frederick Lee – Tartuffe – The Imposter (Wild Rice)
Leonard Augustine Choo – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Max Tan – The Crab Flower Club (Toy Factory)
Max Tan – Pulau Ujong / Island at the End (Wild Rice)
Mumtaz Maricar – Vilangkuppannai – Animal Farm (Agam Theatre Lab)

For the first time, we’re doing awards for design elements as well, starting off with costume design. Early on in the year, Frederick Lee wowed with the period costumes used in Wild Rice’s Tartuffe, before Leonard Augustine Choo’s incredible ability to source for prints and materials to practically reproduce the costume Renee Zellweger wore in Judy for Mina Kaye in End of the Rainbow. Max Tan, undoubtedly one of the local theatre scene’s current beloved designers, dominates the list with two nominations for his work across The Crab Flower Club and Pulau Ujong / Island at the End. Dark horse Mumtaz Maricar rounds off the list for her mask work on Agam Theatre Lab’s Animal Farm, turning actors into grotesque half human half beasts.

And the winner is…

Max Tan – Pulau Ujong / Island at the End (Wild Rice)

Wild Rice’s Pulau Ujong / Island at the End. Photo Credit: Ruey Loon

Amidst a mostly repetitive, monologue-heavy production, Max Tan’s costumes for each of the animal and plant figures that emerged showcased an immense amount of imagination, and costume-turned-fashion, capturing both culture and character in their presentation.

Best Lighting

Devil’s Cherry at SIFA 2022. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited, Images taken by Debbie Y.

Nominees:
Andy Lim – Ceremonial Enactments (SIFA 2022)
Andy Lim – Devil’s Cherry (Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae, SIFA 2022)
Faith Liu Yong Huay – Extinction Feast (The Theatre Practice)
Gabriel Chan – The Almighty Sometimes (Singapore Repertory Theatre)
James Tan – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)

Good lighting often ties in and supports the show so well you’re completely immersed in the production, and when given its chance in the spotlight, emerges to wow audiences. Andy Lim leads the list with two nominations for his work on SIFA shows, with the immense effort that went into what is essentially three shows in one for Ceremonial Enactments, and the difficulty of lighting Pasir Panjang Power Station in Devil’s Cherry. Faith Liu Yong Huay contributes her share to sustainability play Extinction Feast, taking us into a dreamy, aquatic world, while Gabriel Chan matches the energy and emotion of each scene with his simple but effective lighting. Finally, James Tan effortlessly shifts between concert lighting and pays attention to subtle changes from day to night in End of the Rainbow.

And the winner is…

Gabriel Chan – The Almighty Sometimes (Singapore Repertory Theatre)

The Almighty Sometimes by Singapore Repertory Theatre. Photo Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre

I think we said it best in our review itself: “even with just three lighting fixtures hanging overhead, there is so much variety in their flickering, fluorescence and warmth to match the energy, mood and atmosphere of each scene, while also designing precise spotlights, alongside more inventive lighting that resembles twilight or even light that creates the illusion of a tank of water. There are so many lighting cues throughout the show, but every single one of them feels purposeful and intentional and adds to the direction and world-building involved.”

Best Sound

Acting Mad. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography.

Nominees:
Ferry and Sandra Tay – Extinction Feast (The Theatre Practice)
Philip Tan – Ceremonial Enactments (SIFA)
Safuan Johari – Bangsawan Gemala Malam (Teater Ekamatra, SIFA 2022)
Te Hao Boon – Acting Mad (The Necessary Stage)
Vick Low – See You, Anniversary (Nine Years Theatre)

Good sound design and composition can be hard to find, and our nominees all show sound design that is either epic in scope, or deeply emotional. Ferry and Sandra Tay produce some fascinating music in Extinction Feast, with Ferry herself acting as a live foley artist using crockery and cutlery to produce sound. Philip Tan has the unique and incredibly difficult scope of working on three productions in one with Ceremonial Enactments, particularly with surround sound, while Safuan Johari produces a medley and variety of sound to suit all the madness and magic of Bangsawan Gemala Malam. Te Hao Boon allows for soft, affecting moments of subtle sound in Acting Mad, while Vick Low goes in the opposite direction, and composes music and sound specifically to tug at our heartstrings in See You, Anniversary.

And the winner is…

Vick LowSee You, Anniversary (Nine Years Theatre)

See You, Anniversary. Photo Credit: Yeo Siak Ling

From incidental sounds to instrumental tracks wrought with emotion, Vick Low comes through as one of the best sound designers of the year that evoke maximum impact in every scene of See You, Anniversary, transforming a simple story into an epic reflection on life – a few notes is all it takes to cause tears to stream at the play’s emotional high point.

Best Multimedia

project SALOME. Photo Courtesy of Arts House Limited. Images taken by Debbie Y.

Nominees:
Brian Gothong Tan – Devil’s Cherry (Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae, SIFA 2022)
Brian Gothong Tan – Ceremonial Enactments (SIFA 2022)

Elizabeth Mak – project SALOME (Ong Keng Sen, SIFA 2022)
Elizabeth Mak – Extinction Feast (The Theatre Practice)
Elizabeth Mak – Recalling Mother: Her Lines, My Lines (Checkpoint Theatre)

As technology improves, so does it become increasingly integrated into theatre. This year, our list contains only two nominees for their work. Established multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan is represented by his work on SIFA productions Devil’s Cherry and Ceremonial Enactments. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Mak, who recently returned to Singapore after working on Broadway, earns her spot on this list with her work on Extinction Feast, Recalling Mother, and project SALOME (who can forget the massive image of Janice Koh’s face emoting her heart out?), each one showcasing very different styles of work.

And the winner is…

Recalling Mother: Her Lines, My Lines – Elizabeth Mak

Recalling Mother: Her Lines, My Lines. Photo Credit: Checkpoint Theatre

Elizabeth Mak has produced our favourite work of multimedia this year, utilising old footage from past productions of Recalling Mother and laying it onto gossamer screens, the past haunting and informing the present day performances of Noorlinah Mohamed and Claire Wong.  Each video has been carefully cut and timed to present only the most significant of monologues – it often feels like an art installation in motion, and juxtaposed against the present day performers, is both nostalgic and wistful.

Best Set Design

Muswell Hill. Photo Credit: Pangdemonium

Nominees:
Eucien Chia – Muswell Hill (Pangdemonium)
Eucien Chia – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Petrina Dawn Tan – I and You (Gateway Arts)
Randy Chan – Ceremonial Enactments (SIFA 2022)
Wong Chee Wai – Vilangkuppannai – Animal Farm (Agam Theatre Lab)

Set design determines the entire look and feel of a play, and even in minimalistic setups, plays a massive role in immersing us in the production. Pangdemonium almost always relies on Eucien Chia to deliver on their most realistic sets, and in both Muswell Hill and End of the Rainbow, Eucien has proven one of the best in the scene (you also have to fall in love with the appliances from Subzero & Wolf in Muswell Hill, a home to die for). In a surprisingly smaller work, Petrina Dawn Tan makes our list with I and You, which showcases careful attention to detail to create a teenager’s lived-in space in a black box, with a surprise at the very end. Architecture meets set design when Randy Chan came into the picture with Ceremonial Enactments, not only building a set but transforming the entire Esplanade Theatre into a new space for the epic work, while Wong Chee Wai’ ‘s very functional set in Animal Farm brings us completely into the play’s world.

And the winner is…

Eucien Chia – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)

End of the Rainbow. Photo Credit: Pangdemonium

The almost seamless shift between realistic hotel room and club makes Judy Garland feel utterly trapped between her room and the performance venue in Pangdemonium’s End of the Rainbow, and even in the Drama Centre Theatre, you gain an immense sense of claustrophobia. It’s testament to good set design (and direction) that proves Eucien Chia knows how to make something both look good and feel utterly terrifying.

Best Musical

The LKY Musical. Photo Credit: Aiwei and Singapore Repertory Theatre

Nominees:
A Singaporean in Paris – Sing’theatre
Pinocchio – Wild Rice
End of the Rainbow – Pangdemonium
The LKY Musical – Aiwei and SRT

This was the year Singapore finally saw musicals come back to our stage, with actual massive casts singing without masks onstage and performing choreography. Sing’theatre’s A Singaporean in Paris made for a beautifully uplifting and joyous show towards the end of the year, while Wild Rice’s Pinocchio was a return to form for their annual pantomime, showcasing great original music and a heartwarming story. Pangdemonium’s End of the Rainbow is a tragic but powerful portrayal of Judy Garland’s final days, while the return of The LKY Musical was Singapore’s blockbuster return to mass theatre, featuring renowned songstress Kit Chan.

And the winner is…

End of the Rainbow – Pangdemonium

End of the Rainbow. Photo Credit: Pangdemonium

End of the Rainbow is the musical you wished you saw but never did. Pangdemonium outdid themselves in terms of production value, and pulled out all the stops to make Judy Garland the stuff of legends in any viewer’s eyes, and a sympathetic creature abused by the industry. Buoyed by strong performances and great design, End of the Rainbow is a musical that will entertain and move you.

Best New Script

Opposition. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Between You and Me – Nelson Chia
Opposition – Haresh Sharma
Rindu di Bulan – Raimi Safari
The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore – Alfian Sa’at (commissioned and produced by The Substation)
#WomenSupportingWomen – Amanda Chong

The best new scripts this year were emotional hard-hitters. Nelson Chia’s Between You and Me marked the Nine Years Theatre director’s continued foray into original work, capturing the very image of a multi-generational Singaporean Chinese family and all the complications that go into it. Established playwright Haresh Sharma ends off TNS and Drama Box’s trilogy of collaborative works with Opposition, part love story part goodbye to TNS as we knew it at their home in Marine Parade. Raimi Safari’s Rindu di Bulan continues the trend of powerful writing from Rupa co.lab, in showcasing the difficulties of the relationship between a mother and her adopted son. Alfian Sa’at’s The Death of Singapore Theatre is a ‘checkmate’ that effectively criticises IMDA’s posture on censorship while also being a plea for change. Amanda Chong emerges as one of the strongest winners of T:>works’ 24-Hour Playwriting Competition, with #WomenSupportingWomen an incredibly accomplished work from the multi-hyphenate lawyer/poet (her followup, Psychobitch, was also fantastic in the dramatised reading), and absolutely one to watch.

And the winner is…

The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore – Alfian Sa’at (commissioned and produced by The Substation)

The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore. Photo Credit: Hamaiza Kasban

The sold-out run of this SeptFest headliner wasn’t just hype for its ultra-long title – it also marked a return to form for Alfian Sa’at’s writing, which effectively brought together his newfound penchant for research and academia with the emotional writing of his heyday. It’s a clever script that sees the theatre scene as grappling with an abusive relationship with the IMDA, channeling his own feelings of ‘penat’ (tired) into a work that demands to be heard, that causes anyone in the audience to feel angry and sympathetic, and captures an infinitely complex mix of feelings.

Best Ensemble

The Crab Flower Club. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography, courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

Nominees:
Bangsawan Gemala Malam – Teater Ekamatra
Between You and Me – Nine Years Theatre
Muswell Hill – Pangdemonium
Pinocchio – Wild Rice
The Crab Flower Club – Toy Factory

A good ensemble can make or break a performance, much of which is reliant on how good their chemistry is. Teater Ekamatra brought Shakespeare to Malay theatre with Bangsawan Gemala Malam, and saw a strong group of the best of local Malay actors bring the magic to life. Nine Years Theatre’s Between You and Me featured one of the largest casts during the start of the year, and brought out the intergenerational conflicts and tensions well. Pangdemonium’s Muswell Hill saw director Timothy Koh make his debut in leading his cast to bringing out the worst rich characters, people you absolutely love to hate, but still can’t help but feel a shred of sympathy for. Wild Rice’s Pinocchio showcased a cast that brought their 200% to the performance, children included, and working together to feel like a genuine found family. Finally, Toy Factory’s The Crab Flower Club was a high tension period drama that showcased an all-female poetry club, each one unique in personality yet united in their clandestine feminism.

And the winner is…

Bangsawan Gemala Malam (Teater Ekamatra)

Bangsawan Gemala Malam. Photo Courtesy of Arts House Limited.

These really are some of the best actors in Malay theatre today, understanding how to bring out the humour of the script while also fully becoming characters within the wild world of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Clearly enjoying themselves onstage and bringing high energy to their performances, Bangsawan Gemala Malam both requires and delivers on a strong ensemble, who play and riff off each other’s energy incredibly well.

Best Actor

Andrew Marko in Extinction Feast. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Nominees:
Adrian Pang – The LKY Musical (Aiwei and Singapore Repertory Theatre)
Andrew Marko – Extinction Feast (The Theatre Practice)
Gavin Yap – Muswell Hill (Pangdemonium)
Oliver Chong – Every Brilliant Thing (The Finger Players)
Shane Mardjuki – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)

Theatre is one of the few industries where women outnumber men, but there were more than enough men who showcased huge improvement or effort this year in their stage performances. Adrian Pang always brings a part of himself to every role he plays, and somehow makes it work, even when playing Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew in The LKY Musical, no easy feat that he maintains throughout the run. Andrew Marko is a welcome return to the stage and shows off his myriad of skills in both acting and even rapping in Extinction Feast. Shane Mardjuki, as the ‘villainous’ Micky, goes from adoring boyfriend to abusive manager in a manner of seconds, striking fear into us when we watch him interact with Judy in End of the Rainbow. Gavin Yap stands out among his ensemble in Muswell Hill, and draws from a wellspring of hurt and pain that brings the party to an abrupt halt. Finally, Oliver Chong adapts Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing to deliver his specialty – a one-man show filled with hurt but heart.

And the winner is…

Oliver Chong – Every Brilliant Thing (The Finger Players)

Oliver Chong in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography.

Evoking sympathy and hope, Oliver shows that there is light even in the darkest of times, finding the joy in little things to get over huge, seemingly impossible obstacles in life. This is Oliver at his most vulnerable, optimistic and persevering that you cannot help but root for him as he plays his guitar, and helps you see the stars in the night sky.

Best Actress

Tan Rui Shan in Kwa Geok Choo. Photo Credit: CRISPI.


Arielle Jasmine Van Zuijlen – The Almighty Sometimes (Singapore Repertory Theatre)
Farah Ong – The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (Alfian Sa’at, as commissioned and produced by The Substation)
Goh Guat Kian – Between You and Me (Nine Years Theatre)
Mina Kaye – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Tan Rui Shan – Kwa Geok Choo (Toy Factory)

There are almost always too many brilliant actresses to choose from in a year, and this year’s nominees shine a light on those we haven’t seen onstage or celebrated as often as their talent is. Newcomer Arielle Jasmine stuns in The Almighty Sometimes, giving Zendaya vibes in her portrayal of a mentally ill young woman who goes off her meds. Farah Ong is a delight to see onstage whenever she appears, and in The Death of Singapore Theatre, handles Alfian’s script with both intelligence and grace. Goh Guat Kian is a blessing in most productions she appears in, and in Between You and Me, is a force to be reckoned with as the matriarch and diva of the family. Mina Kaye masters Judy Garland’s physicality and voice in End of the Rainbow, while Tan Rui Shan similarly captures the intonation and physicality of Lee Kuan Yew’s wife, turning her into a fully-fleshed out character and person instead of just Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

And the winner is…

Mina Kaye – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)

End of the Rainbow. Photo Credit: Pangdemonium

Delivering showstopping numbers amidst heartshattering breakdowns, to collapse into a drug-addled mess before collecting herself as if nothing has happened, pain behind a false smile, Mina fully embodied Judy Garland in her entirety, became Judy Garland, and left us floored with her performance. To think Mina Kaye did this while pregnant only adds on to the immense talent this woman holds in her body.

Best Director

Pinocchio. Photo Credit: Ruey Loon.

Aidli Alin Mosbit – Bangsawan Gemala Malam (Teater Ekamatra)
Nelson Chia – Between You and Me
Ong Keng Sen – project Salome (T:>works, SIFA 2022)
Pam Oei – Pinocchio (Wild Rice)
Tracie Pang – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)

A good director steers their ship through to ensure the show goes on, showcasing clarity of vision, a keen eye for detail, and a cast that excels. Aidli Alin Mosbit achieves this in the epic Bangsawan Gemala Malam, making Shakespeare feel accessible and fun. Nelson Chia’s Between You and Me feels like a TV drama turned theatre piece, with multiple storylines and relationships to juggle. Ong Keng Sen’s project Salome is visionary and an auteur’s piece, bringing together documentary, live performance and social media to reimagine and reclaim the Salome myth. Pam Oei handles her cast with aplomb and brings out their best in Pinocchio, the stage reverberating with joy and energy, particularly with their ability to interact with the audience and evoke emotion. Finally, Tracie Pang does a fabulous job focusing on Judy Garland’s story in End of the Rainbow, her cast at their very best.

And the winner is…

Nelson Chia – Between You and Me (Nine Years Theatre)

Between You and Me. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

With a cast of both seasoned and newer actors, Nelson Chia applies his ability to create an ensemble out of strangers, and makes them feel like an actual family. One gets shivers watching the dinner at the restaurant, reminiscent of so many times we ourselves have had meals with the extended family, occasionally threatening for secrets to burst out. Everyone in the show feels real, is given their chance to shine, and fallible yet sympathetic. Nelson once again proves he’s one of the best directors working in. the scene today, and it shows across his work.

Special Award: A.Mirage

Two Pigeons Eating Leftovers at Holland Village Sushi Tei. Photo Credit: Christopher Chee

In a time where theatre companies struggle for funding to put up the works of their dreams, it is often the youth that fall to the wayside with few opportunities to present work. Enter A.Mirage, which produced a whopping number of shows over the span of a few weeks to platform and highlight new writing, young theatremakers, and what is essentially fringe theatre. Working out of a backroom at Projector X: Riverside, it brings one back to the old days of the Substation when similar guerrilla projects might pop up. Grungy, makeshift, but full of heart, we don’t know if or when A.Mirage may come back, but for what it’s worth, they made a significant blip with the limited resources they had on the local scene, and perhaps, might inspire similar efforts in future for more ground-up, independent projects.

And now, the award you’ve all been waiting for:

Production of the Year

Between You and Me. Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Nominees:
Bangsawan Gemala Malam – Teater Ekamatra
Between You and Me – Nine Years Theatre
End of the Rainbow – Pangdemonium
Don’t Call Him Mr Mari Kita – Wild Rice
The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore – Alfian Sa’at (commissioned and produced by The Substation)

In choosing production of the year, we not only consider production value, but the significance of the production in terms of what it represents for the local arts scene, how bold and daring it might be in paving the way forward, or capturing a zeitgeist of what things are like.

And the winner is…

The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore – Alfian Sa’at (commissioned and produced by The Substation)

The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore. Photo Credit: Hamaiza Kasban

Alfian Sa’at has a reputation as one of Singapore’s best playwrights, and as ‘budget’ and low key as The Death of Singapore Theatre might be, it feels like the work that has brought the fire within him back to his writing. If there was ever a time for loving critics to emerge and say their piece, it is now, as we emerge into a world that is ripe for newness in the wake of a pandemic. It is a time to say goodbye to old ways as we seek out new ways of seeing and new ways of being, to provoke debate and conversation around the status quo, in the hopes that we catapult ourselves into the future. In this work, Alfian takes a wry look back at the way the IMDA works with scripts, how companies are at the mercy of them, utilising artefacts, footage, and facts. There is plenty of humour, but also plenty of pain gathered from history. There is no ‘agenda’ here, only a cry for help, and the hope that artists and authorities can learn to see eye to eye, and empathise, only then can the first steps to freedom be taken.

***

While it was an immensely busy time for us reviewing and writing about shows, it is always a joy to see the arts return in full force, with projects in stasis finally seeing the stage, with what felt very much like a light at the end of a long dark tunnel, as the scene found itself on the road to recovery once more.

As 2023 arrives, January is set for yet another deluge of programmes, from the massive Singapore Art Week to the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, and an early Chinese New Year. How 2023 will play out is anyone’s guess, but what we’re sure of is now that we’re open, we’re never going back, and things are only going to get even more robust and exciting. For now, enjoy your New Year’s Eve, take the long weekend and rest and recuperate before the cycle begins anew, and have a Happy New Year.

Award Summary:
Best Costumes – Max Tan – Pulau Ujong / Island at the End (Wild Rice)
Best Lighting – Gabriel Chan – The Almighty Sometimes (Singapore Repertory Theatre)
Best Sound – Vick Low – See You, Anniversary (Nine Years Theatre)
Best Multimedia – Elizabeth Mak – Recalling Mother (Checkpoint Theatre)
Best Set – Eucien Chia – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Best Musical – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Best New Script – Alfian Sa’at – The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore
Best Ensemble – Bangsawan Gemala Malam (Teater Ekamatra, SIFA 2022)
Best Actor – Oliver Chong – Every Brilliant Thing (The Finger Players)
Best Actress – Mina Kaye – End of the Rainbow (Pangdemonium)
Best Director – Nelson Chia – Between You and Me (Nine Years Theatre)
Special Award – A.Mirage
Production of the Year – The Death of Singapore Theatre as Scripted By the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore



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