The Emperor’s New Clothes

By John Bittleston
John with his wife, Eliza, at the gala premiere of The Emperor’s New Clothes

Thought-provoking fun doesn’t get any better than W!LD RICE’s production of The Emperor’s New Clothes. As Impresario Ivan Heng said, ‘It makes you just a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it?’ Yes, but it also made us laugh till the tears ran down our cheeks and gasp with admiration for the incredible amount of work, skill and sheer devotion that Pam Oei put into the play’s direction.

W!LD RICE made a brave – and very successful – assault on our sensitivities when they produced Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. They have taken a step forward with this pantomime. More than the usual holiday frolic, it captivated everyone from a three-year-old to this eighty-three-year-old. It made us think of different things, I am sure, but left us both with the WOW that promises theatre in Singapore is alive and flourishing.

Joel Tan’s script and Julian Wong’s music skilfully combined a local touch with the questions today’s 20-somethings should be – and are – asking. It kept enough of the traditional to permit experiments not only with the culture of Singapore but with the maturity of the audience. It was pitched perfectly. To get so many young to perform so unselfconsciously and professionally was a feat I have not seen on the stage before. Choreographers Gino Flordeliza Babagay and Hafeez Hassan had their work cut out – and met the challenge. Set designer Eucien Chia spared no effort to combine the atmosphere of music hall with the pomposity of imperial trappings. The vast production team all deserve a mention.

As for the cast, it is invidious to single out any performers. They were all brilliant. Lim Kay Siu, the perfect Emperor, Siti Khalijah, a mind-blowing Minister of Finance and the exquisitely named Minister of Retribution (Wong Bok Siu) all deserve Oscars. But they, I know, would agree that the rosettes of the evening must go to the children, not forgetting their hard-working and, by now I am sure, exhausted chaperones. Children on stage are often awkward, torn between attention-getting and reticence. None of that here. Every child was professional, clearly enjoying themselves and, in turn, giving us tremendous fun.

And it is this aspect of W!LD RICE’s and Ivan Heng’s work that I think is the best. Great actors – and Ivan certainly is one – know where centre stage is. Greater actors lead the young into the limelight.

That is what Ivan does, not just for W!LD RICE, not just for his actors, but for all Singapore.

A very big thank you and congratulations. You deserve all the support you can get.

Reproduced from The Daily Paradox with permission from John Bittleston.

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