This March, Toy Factory artistic director Goh Boon Teck is set to premiere a brand new play, with his 17th original script – Quest – The White Hare (追寻 – 白兔记). Making its debut at the Esplanade Theatre from 3-4 March, the play is a cross-section between traditional Hokkien Opera and contemporary mandarin theatre on stage.
Taking on a play within a play format, Boon Teck brings the classic Hokkien Opera tale, “The White Hare” to life set in a modern-day-Singapore premise. The play essentially explores the significance of traditions, Hokkien Opera and cultural identity through the eyes of an average Singaporean.
In the classic Hokkien Opera The White Hare, a mysterious rabbit reunites a mother and son after 16 years of separation—can this same fabled being reconnect us back to our cultural roots? Upon the completion of a major renovation at Feng Ling Community Centre, a large-scale Hokkien opera was proposed to justify its funding. The centre summoned Wu, a Singaporean theatre director to recreate The White Hare, and instructed staff member Micky Lim to coordinate this project.
“Quest – The White Hare marks the next chapter of my career; a continuous exploration on this intersection between traditional Chinese theatre, like operas & wayangs, and theatre now. We have a rich Chinese history and cultural resonance from our forefathers and mothers of Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese and Hakka descent – in the next decade I seek to find what it means to be a modern theatre practitioner through these lenses, and what it can serve for the world,” says Boon Teck, on his plans for his future.
Boon Teck started his humble beginnings in 1990 as a director, designer and eventually taking on multiple hats, as a playwright too. He was greatly influenced by the work and guidance of the father of mandarin theatre in Singapore, the late Kuo Pao Kun. Boon Teck’s works seamlessly reflect the dichotomy of the human experience between past and present; our history and our future interwoven into one theatrical spectacle on stage.
In 1992 he wrote his first script, Posteterne 英台起诉记, a modern take on the tale of a classic, Butterfly Lovers, and two years after he wrote his iconic play Titoudao 剃头刀 a critically acclaimed piece which went on to be restaged locally and internationally, and later on adapted as a TV series in 2020; a script inspired by the life of his mother, a Chinese Opera artist who strived to keep a traditional and dying art form alive in an ever-changing world. The script serves as a commentary on cultural identities threatened by westernisation and globalisation.
“My desire is to create theatre that subtly reflects world views, and encourage our audiences to think about our current issues using old subject matters like historical icons, legends and our Chinese folklores. After 33 years of theatre making, I still adore the process of reading and digging into our roots to find similarities and parallels of present times. These meaningful stories are an echo from our past, reminding us all of the great lessons learned,” shares Goh Boon Teck.
Known for championing traditional art forms and stories and adding a modern twist, Quest – The White Hare will see a diverse cast of characters in the story: a member of parliament, a kindergarten teacher, a coffee shop cleaner, a junior college student, and an opera veteran, who come together to rehearse. But as they gather, their differences also become the source of misunderstandings between contemporary and traditional ideologies. Opera movements lost in a forest of doubts, and frustrations rolled in as clouds of fear. Will the rabbit hop in time to rescue them out of the well of confusion to complete their performance?
Following a successful run of The Crab Flower Club in 2022, director Goh Boon Teck join hands with the same creative team to bring his new, original script to life. This production fuses traditional Hokkien opera with modern theatrical elements, peppered with colourful and familiar Singaporean and Hokkien expressions throughout the show. Audiences will also have the rare opportunity to watch Hokkien opera excerpts by veteran performer Mdm Wei Li Fen, who used to perform with the famed Sin Sai Hong, Singapore’s oldest Hokkien opera troupe that last performed together in 2014. She is joined by cast members Doreen Toh, Wendy Toh, Timothy Wan, Tiara Yap, Wayne Lim, Clement Yeo and Asher Kang Zhan Feng.
A tender celebration of the art of Hokkien opera, Quest – The White Hare bridges the traditional and contemporary with heart and humour, leading audiences down a path of joyful discovery.
Quest – The White Hare plays from 3rd to 4th March 2023 at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets available here
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