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Production

Army Daze

Company

Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

04/03/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

***

Band of Brudders

I have to admit that I do not look forward to going for reservist training and it boggles my mind that there are some people who do. Don't get me wrong, in my head, I know all the reasons why it has to be done but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it - except somehow, I strangely do. Part of it is the surprise and perverse sense of achievement that someone like me can somehow make it out alive at all but another part comes from the powerful and somehow comforting bond that exists between all NSmen because of our shared experience. Words have meanings for NSmen that simply don't exist for people who have not gone through national service. You say the word "guard duty" and it means something: there's a whole conveyor belt of emotional baggage that comes with that one word. And then there are words like "CB leaf" (don't ask) that don't mean anything at all to anyone else.

And that is the power of Army Daze. It's not a terribly sophisticated script (remember the film?). Playwright Michael Chiang knows this and admits as much in the programme. The audience knows it too. The script is littered with caricatures (the mummy's boy, the ah beng, the mat, etc.) and low-brow humour, and the plot is thinner than most army boys' paper underwear. And yet the play has been such an enduring and endearing success over the years simply because of the way it taps into something so very primal - it appeals to our very sense of who we are, our sense of home. Army Daze is shamelessly and therefore distinctly Singaporean with its thick local flavour, NS in-jokes and strong Singlish tones.

No one for a second thinks this is Pinter or Chekov. Army Daze is a big-budget spectacle painted in cartoon colours and broad strokes, engineered for mainstream success in Singapore and it does what it does relatively well. The audience I was with clearly enjoyed it for what it was, as their frequent laughter indicated, although I must admit that I myself was looking for just a little more coherence and substance in the meandering script. The star-studded celebrity cast (Lim Kay Siu, Selena Tan, Mark Richmond, Emma Yong, Sebastian Tan, etc.) were clearly enjoying themselves as well which was nice to see. I guess this was a rare opportunity for them to let their hair down and (over)act alongside rubber snakes in a jungle and giant cardboard cut-outs of Pulau Tekong fast crafts and training sheds. They sang, they danced, they jumped around and they delivered lines that were lamer than someone trying to keng and get Atten B.

The short running time helped to paper the cracks in the script and keep things moving quickly (especially when the script got caught up in pointless asides about serious fare such as recruit Pereira's troubles with his family) but really, I think what made the play work as well as it did were essentially two key performances. One was by Hossan Leong who totally transformed himself physically to play the meek Malcolm Png, his whole body bent out of shape with bow legs and a hunch - although his comic timing remained as finely tuned as ever. Kumar, a standout in the ensemble cast, was the other delight. He commands the stage and audience like no one else in Singapore and here, as Lathi, a girlfriend to one of the army boys, a single word or action caused the audience to erupt with applause and laughter. Frankly, just appearing onstage was enough for him to receive an ovation. He says more with a single arched eyebrow than many of our more fêted-actors can with an entire set piece. His overacting is underpinned by an intelligent understanding of how to shape and contextualise his lines so that they become funnier than they really are and this was particularly evident when set against the blunter and more heavy-handed efforts of his many fellow cast members who were all flash and flare (as opposed to flair) but little else. He knows and understands his audience - and they love him for it.

Army Daze was supposed to celebrate the pride of Singapore: its national armed forces. But at the end of the day, I think it made me most proud to be a Singaporean because of our other national treasures - the geniuses of Kumar and Leong.


"Army Daze was supposed to celebrate the pride of Singapore: its national armed forces. But at the end of the day, I think it made me most proud to be a Singaporean because of our other national treasures - the geniuses of Kumar and Leong"

Credits

Playwright: Michael Chiang

Directors: Beatrice Chia and Goh Boon Teck

Set Designer: Goh Boon Teck

Lighting Designer: Suven Chan

Costumes Designer:
Mothar Kasim

Choreographer: Gordon Choy

Cast: Hossan Leong, Robin Goh, Sebastian Tan, Vernon A, Sheikh Haikel Selena Tan, Kumar, Emma Yong, Benjamin Ng, Mark Richmond, Gerald Chew, Lim Kay Siu

More Reviews of Productions by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.