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Production

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Company

W!ld Rice

Reviewer

Amos Toh

Date

29/11/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

***

M!rror, M!rror...

W!ld Rice's annual Christmas parade of fairytale characters given a kooky local twist rolls into the Drama Centre once again, this time helmed by resident playwright Alfian Sa'at, who has, in previous years, brought us stimulating sociopolitical pieces like Homesick and the Asian Boys trilogy. It is a surprising and intriguing change of pace for theatre's enfant terrible, not too different from watching Ang Lee try his hand at directing comic-book movie Hulk, or Meryl Streep squirm, shimmy and shriek through Mamma Mia!. The result is two hours of big voices, outrageous hair and a truckload of camp, which zips by rather pleasantly in this zesty retelling of the eponymous fairy tale.

The gallant prince (Dwayne Tan), with much fanfare and dramatic flourishing of his coat, sets about finding his one true lover, and stumbles upon a Kingdom faraway from his own. Burdened by a distracting set, the Eternal Kingdom is awash in pastels gone sour and soaked in a plastic garishness that only a very young child - or possibly a kitsch-worshipping drag queen - might find pretty. Its inhabitants are creepily sycophantic, introducing the prince to their sterile surroundings with an unblinking enthusiasm that he can barely reciprocate. Well, not until the luminous Snow White (Elena Wang) strides onto the stage, setting in motion a dutifully tiresome game of peek-a-boo and, alas, a tale of heroism in love and good triumphing over evil.

The central romance is as silly as custom demands, and in Alfian's version it is scooted over as quickly as possible with a few brief scenes and drippy love songs, which makes time for the production's more sinister attraction. Something magnificently evil is afoot, and it explodes on stage in the form of (drag) Queen Sebastian Tan. In between fretting about her wrinkles, disguising her age (with a fervour The Nanny would approve of) and snarling at her cheeky, fast-talking magic mirror (the melodiously witty Celine Rosa Tan), the Queen plots the cosmetic-surgery demise of her nemesis, Snow White. Predictably, her plan culminates in tragicomic failure, with nary a crack on the latter's alabaster complexion. However, while she is roundly booed off the stage like a proper villain, one can't help but secretly root for her. Evil, after all, has never been so fabulous.

Bedecked in some fantastically unbecoming gowns, Tan rips through crowd-pleasing numbers with a commanding baritone, notably elevating the show to grand and unabashed melodrama in Queen of Diamonds, a sassy power ballad about the Queen's impeccable leadership, and also her impeccably Botoxed forehead. Tan never condescends to walk like the rest of the ensemble, preferring to sweep from one scene to another with a cocksure hand on his hip and a hawk-like gaze. When Tan's character turns to his other mirror, the audience, for validation, he wags a perfectly manicured finger in our faces and probes us with a throat-clearing trill, creating a Brechtian illusion of power and persuasion that reminds viewers of their own political reality.

Characteristically, Alfian milks Tan's feisty, domineering persona and his surroundings for all their social and political worth, harnessing some deliriously funny material. However, this can also spawn tired jokes and flashes of caricature, often in the same breath as the brilliance. One notable scene comes to mind. In the rigged beauty pageant that annually crowns The Queen its winner, Alfian exploits the embarrassing, blunder-prone tension of the traditional Question-and-Answer session to its full comic potential, at one point introducing Alecia Kim Chua to translate English to mat English for Ms Telok Blangah. Unfortunately, Alfian belabours his satire, and we are further made to watch Ms Pedra Branca and Ms Jurong East, tricked up in gaudy guess-what-I-represent costumes, trip over their precarious stilettos and painfully unfunny answers in a sloppily edited sequence.

Snow White could also make much better use of its dwarfs, who feel more like ponderous, if mildly amusing moral mouthpieces than fully fledged characters. There is some weak attempt at putting a uniquely contemporary spin on the septet (Lispy, well, lisps, while Jesse/Jessie is bestowed with a gender-confused persona), but any endearing quirks of character are swept aside for schmaltzy Hi-5-esque song-and-dance sequences devoid of any cross-generational appeal.

In matter of craft and technique the show is sometimes a tangle of clumsy cuts, and painfully obvious sound bites, and is prone to garbled, awkward performances which drown each other out. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see Alfian's rebellious, sardonic persona peek through the litany of hook-driven melodies and slick dance moves, lending this zany, messy musical a slightly devilish streak that is more than just typical pantomime subversion. Snow White is suitable for all ages, but is not exactly for the faint-hearted either.


"Two hours of big voices, outrageous hair and a truckload of camp."

Credits

Cast: Elena Wang, Sebastian Tan, Dwayne Tan, Celine Rosa Tan, Gordon Choy, Richard Chia, Alecia Kim Chua, Farhan Hassan, Jacqueline Pereira, Joanna Pilgrim, Fariz bin Sarib, Filomar Tariao, Shermaine Ang, Sarah Buxton, Lim Shi-An, Jervyn Tan, Vanessa Tay, Paul Teoh, Vicknes Vijayarengan, Gabbi Virk and Ryan Yap

Playwright: Alfian Sa'at

Director: Hossan Leong

Musical Director/Composer/Arranger: Elaine Chan

Choreographer: Ryan Tan

Set Designer: Chia Yu Hsien

Lighting Designer: Mac Chan

Sound Designer: Shah Tahir

Costume Designer: Moe Kasim

Hair Designer: Ashley Lim

Magic Advisor: Kiki Tay

Makeup Design: M.A.C.

Musicians: Elaine Chan, Rizal Sanip, Daniel Chai, Colin Yong

Producer: Tony Trickett

More Reviews of Productions by W!ld Rice

More Reviews by Amos Toh

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