In Monkey Goes West, Darius Tan is doing something he’s never done before in a W!LD RICE pantomime: play a man.
“This is the first time I’m not performing in drag,” laughs Darius, who is grabbing a quick bite to eat backstage before suiting up for the show. “This time, I have to channel my masculine side.”
For each of his four previous pantomime outings, Darius has cross-dressed to play the Dame – drawing laughs and stealing scenes as an evil stepsister or a mother with a gambling addiction.
“People have actually asked me if I will be funny since I’m not playing a woman!” he confides with a twinkle in his eye, and pretends to be offended. “Hello, what are you trying to say?!”
“I like King Bull!” he goes on to say of the powerful demon he conjures to life on stage every night. The role, originated by Lim Kay Siu in the 2014 production of Monkey Goes West, is “fun”, and Darius has enjoyed putting his own stamp on it.
“Not a lot of people know this, but I have some basic training in Chinese opera,” he reveals. As a result, Darius was able to work with martial arts choreographer Gordon Choy to revamp and expand a key fight sequence in the show.
Darius also came to Monkey Goes West with a clean slate, so to speak. Due to an insanely busy schedule at the time, he did not get to watch the show during its sold-out run in 2014.
“The first time I watched it was on video, after I’d been cast,” he confesses. “And I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, it’s a very good show!’ That’s when I started to get very stressed out, right up until the last day of rehearsals.”
He credits his director, Sebastian Tan, with helping him to find his feet within the production. “Sebastian has been very, very good in easing me into Monkey Goes West,” he says gratefully.
And he’s thrilled to be working with his “partner-in-crime”, Chua Enlai, again – this time as husband and wife, after their riotous ‘sister acts’ in Beauty and the Beast and Cinderel-LAH!.
What makes Monkey Goes West particularly special for Darius is the way it breaks from tradition.
“I’m glad W!LD RICE has started adapting Asian stories into pantomimes,” he explains. “I think people do relate to Monkey Goes West more, in a way, because it’s based on a Chinese story we all know. In the future, I hope we can do some Singaporean stories as well!”
In the meantime, Darius is looking forward to the rest of Monkey Goes West’s month-long run – although he’s keen to dispel any notions that performing in a pantomime is child’s play.
“No pantomime is easy,” he points out. “You can’t expect your audience to laugh every night – you have to earn it. That’s something all performers, myself included, need to learn and constantly remember.”
That’s true, too, of every show he’s ever done. Darius prides himself on always giving it his all, even if he’s feeling under the weather. He believes he owes it to the people who made time and paid money to see the show.
“I’ve performed in a two-and-a-half-hour production for just 20 people before,” he remembers. “But that doesn’t mean I give any less of my effort.”
He recalls with vivid clarity how he saw the original cast of Beauty World perform, way back in 1989. He can pinpoint the exact moment during the show when he decided that he wanted to become an actor.
“I’ve had that experience myself, so I know how watching a show can change someone’s life,” he observes.
Children have come up to him after Monkey Goes West to confess their desire to, perhaps, become performers one day. It’s not a responsibility he takes lightly. “That’s why I love my job, and why I make sure I do my job well!”