Red-Hot Chilli Pepper

Talk about coming full circle! Kimberly Chan, one of the local theatre scene’s brightest rising stars, made her professional debut as a dancing crab in Cinderel-lah!, W!LD RICE’s first pantomime. Now, she’s starring as Red Boy in Monkey Goes West. She chats with us about graduating into the limelight and performing in the recent RICE BALL.

Tell us about your character in Monkey Goes West.

I actually play a character who exists in two worlds in the show. In the real world, I’m Xiao Hong, Ah Tang’s stepsister. She’s very pampered and an over-achiever. She sings, she dances, she acts, she writes and has trophies galore. It’s a very good juxtaposition with Joshua’s character, Ah Tang, who’s more quiet and reserved and feels like he needs to take care of himself because his aunt and uncle are too busy paying attention to Xiao Hong.

In the imagined world, I play Xiao Hong’s alter ego – Hong Hai Er, or Red Boy. Like Xiao Hong, he’s spoilt beyond belief by his two parents, King Bull and Princess Iron-Fan. He suffers punishment from Guan Yin Ma for being mischievous and wanting to eat Tang Seng’s flesh so that he can be immortal. He must confront the error of his ways, and that makes for a really interesting journey of his own in the show.

Were you familiar with Journey To The West before being cast in this production?

When Journey To The West was on television, I was really young. So I never followed it closely and don’t remember specific stories. But I remember images and scenes and monsters from it. I remember it being a massive epic journey – there were so many episodes in the television series! [laughs] I think Alfian has done a very interesting and very good job of translating the mythical characters and stories into something we can relate to. He had a wealth of stories to pick from, and he’s found the essence of the journey and each character and planted that into our version of the story.

Kimberly as Red Boy

What’s the most challenging part for you in playing your role?

Shooting fire from my eyes! Everyone keeps singing that line over and over, and we’re all trying to figure out how I’m going to do that! [laughs] More seriously, I was told to come back for a dance call during auditions – and it was essentially a wushu call. Gordon Choy, our martial arts choreographer, asked me to spin a staff in my hands, and I kept dropping it. And he asked me to do some movement stuff as well that looked simple enough, but really wasn’t! I’m anticipating that to be the most challenging thing for me: incorporating all the wushu movements and having really fast dance breaks that go straight into the singing.

Tell us about your first experience with the W!LD RICE pantomime.

As a child, I was in Cinderel-lah!, the very first W!LD RICE pantomime ever. I was a FIRST STAGE Kid! That was the first professional show that I ever did. I feel like I’ve come full circle, because I’ve just graduated from LASALLE and it’s great to come into the pantomime again. And I’ll no longer be dancing in a styrofoam crab suit! [laughs]

I did my thesis on W!LD RICE’s pantomimes as well. I think W!LD RICE has done such a great job in sustaining the pantomime over a decade. It’s so rare to find a theatrical tradition in Singapore that spans such a long period of time. And the pantomimes are so Singaporean too. They’ve been localised and they reach out to such a wide audience, including people who don’t usually come to the theatre, because it’s something they can connect to.

What’s it been like working with the cast?

Everybody has a wicked sense of humour. It’s really fun to be part of a cast with a real mixture of actors, all from very different backgrounds, and to see how everyone works individually with their roles and their songs. I feel like a little kid at Christmas just watching everyone at work!

You performed Eye Of The Tiger with the Martial House Kids at this year’s RICE BALL. Tell us about that experience.

It was like a dream come true. I sound like a broken record, saying this to everybody, but it really was. I mean, I grew up with the Singapore theatre scene – watching it and learning from it. So I’m sitting backstage with people like Ivan Heng, Glen Goei, Pam Oei and Hossan Leong… these are big names to me! I was sitting at the table with Ria Jones, this incredible West End star, waiting to go on. I was just pinching myself. ‘Is this real? Am I actually sitting here, doing what I’m doing?’ And the RICE BALL is a whole bunch of fun. It’s so flamboyant and fabulous. I feel really fortunate to have been part of the W!LD RICE family in that way.

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