>AH KONG'S BIRTHDAY PARTY by Singapore Repertory Theatre

>reviewed by kerryn chan

>date: 22 jul 1998
>time: 7:30pm
>venue: orchard parade hotel
>rating: not rated

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>the party of the year

Put together two of Singapore's most exciting and talented artistes, and what do you get? The birth of AH KONG'S BIRTHDAY PARTY, a new production staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) at the Orchard Parade Hotel. The Orchard Parade Hotel, you might be wondering? Yes, this production is the first to explore the concept of interactive dinner theatre.

Ah Kong (Grandpa in Hokkien) turns 71, a most auspicious birthday in the annals of a Chinese man. His family has decided to throw a grand surprise party for Ah Kong, without his knowledge. And thus, the audience become guests to this party - friends and family, where you must know everyone there, and I mean absolutely everyone.

Singapore has never before seen local interactive dinner theatre. Unlike some dinner theatre held at some other established hotels in Singapore, AH KONG'S BIRTHDAY PARTY has found a niche. At this party, we don't just sit and consume dinner first, and watch the play after; we eat while the drama happens all around us. Singapore has never seen a production of this nature; in New York, 'Tony and Tina's Wedding' and the macabre 'Grandma Sylvia's Funeral' have both been running nightly for years.

Keeping in line with SRT's new vision to promote new local works featuring local actors, director Ivan Heng has cast twenty local actors in this production, including some very recognisable names from the TV and theatre circuits like Tann Yean, Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin, Lee Weng Kee, Karen Lim, Selena Tan, Emma Yong and Tony Quek.

>>'Who wants originality when high drama and camp is the order of the night?'

The whole cast of twenty, the most I have seen in a local production, surrounded the "guests" and involved them in the high drama and spirit of the evening. Throughout the whole evening, we were entertained, cajoled and tickled by the likes of Uncle Harry's gambling problems, Auntie Aggie's drunken stupor, and masseur Xiao Ding's explicitly revealing act!

Right from the word go, when both Denise and Rowena Cheong stepped out to greet the guest, all the actors were in character. Even after the guests have been herded into the ballroom where the main action took place, the actors have to remain in character whenever they stepp out to get a drink or to use the washroom. Any poor stranger who might have used the washroom at this point might see Uncle Harry cursing Auntie Mavis under his breath. I believe that these actors must be drained after this intensely engaging session of two hours.

Even the menu provided plenty to scream about! Sink your teeth into Forever Phoenix Fish and Jumping Dumplings; don't forget the Abalonely Embracing Mee served with Braised Heavenly Garden Vegetables. I wish I could see more of these names in regular restaurant menus! Sometimes, I think restaurants take food names a tad too seriously...

A lot of the fun has to be generated from the crowd themselves. Go and have fun. Let your hair down. Don't be stuffy when you attend Ah Kong's Birthday Party. Indulge in gossip with Rowena Cheong about Mavis' greed. Flirt with Shanghai beauty Ling Xiao Ding, and you may just get yourself a free massage at Harry's joint, Hotel Kuchinta in Rochor Road. Of course, you might have to contend with Xiao Ding's over-protective ah beng boyfriend, Ah Boon. Convince your friends to go along, the bigger the group, the rowdier it gets, the more fun you'll have. If you cannot convince them, force them!

I heard that some people are disappointed with the later part of the show, especially the finale. Not wanting to give away what will in any case be obvious to any intelligent guest, I think it suffices to say that the plot at the end seemed cliched and unoriginal. But who wants originality when high drama and camp is the order of the night? Hurry, go out and buy your ticket to this show - donch miss the party of the year!