Nauval Yazid, Contributor, Singapore
Singaporeans really have a good time making fun of themselves -- on the stage, that is.
In the last 10 years, one theater production has poked fun at everything from films to plays to politics.
Bear in mind that Singapore is not a big place and is known for its strict controls, which at times have meant productions are banned because they contain politically sensitive material.
The production in the spotlight is called Forbidden Chestnuts, Singapore's equivalent of American parodies Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood.
Since its conception in 1996, the production, affectionately known as Chestnuts, has drawn regional audiences by being equally entertaining and daring. Past performances have seen the metamorphosis of Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series into a bubble tea seller and Neo of the Matrix trilogy take the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) to get to his destination.
Now in its 10th year, the production recently concluded its sold-out season run. Bearing the title Portrait of a Brokeback Geisha -- a cross-over between Brokeback Mountain and Memoirs of a Geisha -- the play offers one laugh after another. Divided into a series of sketches, it opens with a take on the first scene of The Phantom of the Opera, in which a collection of things found in an old theater is held. Only this time, the items being auctioned off are props from some local Singaporean productions. When it ended with the sale of a sex-toy used in a recent gay theater production, the audience responded with hearty laughter.
The Phantom of the Opera, which is soon to return to Singapore for a limited season, is currently being promoted all over the region. If only local productions received the same treatment.
As the play continues it parodies a collection of movies, ranging from Geisha (Zhang Ziyi has to suffer the mispronunciation of her name in order to rise to the top of Hollywood), Mountain (deleted scenes from the film that the film's director, Ang Lee, should not have bothered to shoot in the first place, Grudge 2 and Happy Feet.
The parodies are basically attempts to raise awareness of local productions.
As Jonathan Lim, the director, said in the play's program, ""... So may dubious foreign touring productions. So many ambitious local productions. ... So much silliness just begging to be pointed out and laughed at ...""
Of course, in a very small, segmented market it is not easy to sell tickets. The population of the city-state is four million and there are not so many enthusiastic theatergoers.
But not all of the foreign touring productions are considered a success. Chestnuts recognizes this in its commentaries on Grease and My Fair Lady.
Yet, despite the repetitive nature of some local productions, such as the lavish musical Forbidden City, Singapore has much to offer.
Most local actors are bilingual, as demonstrated by the play's entire cast. The best performances come from actors who excel at transforming themselves, like Hossan Leong, one of Singapore's most sought-after actors.
And who said that Singapore lacks playwrights? Again, in one of the play's funniest scenes, the cast comments on a number of local plays.
Often, they poke fun at playwrights who seem to dwell on the same themes, like Eleanor Wong, who explores lesbian issues, and Alfiana, who has a number of gay-themed plays under his belt. The latter has also been a Chestnut writer.
Thus, with chameleon-like actors and brilliant playwrights, what excuse does Singapore have for not putting on some top productions? Of course, whenever Singaporeans need to laugh at themselves -- either for not being able to compete with foreigners, or for surpassing them -- then Forbidden Chestnuts gives them something to chew on. The result is simply hilarious.