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Oi! Sleeping Beauty!


Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Reviewed by Ken Lyen

Book and lyrics: Jonathan Lim
Music: Bang Wenfu
Director: Ivan Heng
Music Director: Elaine Chan
Choreographer: Erich Edralin
Cast: Pam Oei, Gene Sha Rudyn, Gani Abdul Karim, Chua Enlai, Helmi Fita, Selena Tan, Karen Tan, Christina Sergeant, Hatta Said
Venue: Drama Centre
Rating: **1/2 (out of five stars)

I went into the Drama Centre with high hopes. Jonathan Lim has just done a brilliant satire called Chestnuts, and Bang Wenfu had written some masterful arrangements that greatly enhanced its humor. I was not totally disappointed. There were many good things going for Oi! Sleeping Beauty!

First, it is wonderfully subversive. It is a wake-up call to children, which formed the bulk of the audience, to start thinking for themselves. Masquerading as harmless children's pantomime, it has, like a stealth fighter, evaded our censors' radars.

The singing and acting were excellent. Pamela Oei as the Sleeping Beauty, and Gene Sha Rudyn as Kuchinta the talking cat, stole the show with their fine singing and comic acting. The dancing was a bit ragged, but acceptable. Overall the interaction with the audience was effective, and running down the aisles and climbing over the audience‚Äôs seats kept the energy level very high. The supporting cast was very good, and there is little to fault with this aspect.

The script is witty and you see glimpses of Jonathan Lim's talent for parody. The problem is the structure. The first half is the classical Sleeping Beauty story set in Singapore a century ago. The second half follows Sleeping Beauty after she wakes up a century later. The modern period just didn't work for me. The entire time was devoted to unraveling clues how to wake up unthinking Singaporeans from their slumber. It is an overlong joke that had quickly run out of steam, and was becoming a bit of a bore. Furthermore I was not convinced that the wicked fairy's vision for a modern Singapore was necessarily a bad thing, and that going back to the past was going to be better.

The music is not Bang Wenfu's best. He is capable of writing much better music, and it seems that he must have rushed through Oi! Sleeping Beauty! The songs are largely functional, unmemorable and strangely humorless, except for the short extracts of some Singapore national songs. The start was very good, with gamelan music, but it soon jettisoned its Asian sound, and became rather bland western pop, with some jazz elements. There was insufficient musical differentiation between Singapore a century ago, and modern Singapore.

The sets comprised mainly of hanging drapes and roll-on furniture. Simple, yet effective. The lighting and sound effects created the right moods. The costumes were beautiful.

The audience consisted largely of children, and they generally enjoyed the two-and-a-half-hour-long show. So at least on that level, the pantomime succeeded. Unfortunately, for myself, I have higher expectations, and the show has some deep flaws which are too large to be papered over by an otherwise fine performance or by its good production values.

The magnificent elephant brought in at the beginning was never used again. The choreography could be more imaginative, and there could be more acrobatics. A fairy tale lends itself to a greater use of magic, and this was also underutilized.

In conclusion, Oi! Sleeping Beauty! is an entertaining show and deliciously subversive. The script and music need a lot more work if it is going to be restaged in the future.

17 December 2005