>FABULOUS AT 40 by Caldwell Arts

>reviewed by James Koh

>date: 21 jul 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: chijmes hall
>rating: **

>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.


It could have been so much more. Damn it, we expected so much more. A veteran of the comedy circuit, a former CHIJ girl and one of the goddesses of the local television scene... this should have been Koh Chieng Mun's triumphant "return" to comedy and a call to arms to former CHIJ comrades, telling them that, darlings, she's FABULOUS AT 40.

Yet throughout the night, we were only given glimpses of the Koh Chieng Mun that we have come to expect - her acerbic wit flashing with great panache and the straightest of faces. We wanted her to tickle us with her glib tongue as she poked merciless fun at people, while pissing in our pants if she did turn on us. Instead we were presented with only a tamed version of Koh, leaving us wondering at the disappearance of the fiery spirit we have come to know.

Most of the material of stand up comedy deals with stereotypes, typically those of gender, class and relationships. But unlike the usual safe topics that comedians tread upon (Selena Tan comes to mind), Koh went for the jugular and had us in stitches with some politically incorrect segments - like the idea of eliminating Ah Bengs by sending them to HDB void-decks known for killer litter, or her impersonation of (and amusing retorts to) a certain Singaporean political leader. But the script by Seah Chang Un and Esan Sivalingam (who are the creative team of writers behind 'Under One Roof' and 'Phua Chu Kang') had a touch of seen-it, done-it, heard-it-all-before mediocrity that even a lively performance by Koh could not salvage.

>>'Everything was done too earnestly and without the slightest trace of irony or "knowingness"'

Mind you, FABULOUS AT 40 is not simply stand-up comedy. It is, we are told, a one-woman show. So between the episodes of comic banter were highly contrived set pieces that saw Koh singing and dancing away. And it was these segments that dragged the show way down with their insipid and uninspired musical numbers. There wasn't a lightness of touch, a deft handling of music and comedy that say Selena Tan has developed during her series of one-woman shows. Part cabaret, part musical revue, one segment had her tap dancing her way through an audition for a role as the Phantom of the Opera. The scary thing about these segments were that they were performed without any sense of camp, which obviously jarred with the exaggerated melodrama of it all. Everything was done too earnestly and without the slightest trace of irony or "knowingness".

At times, you felt that she was a drag performer who didn't realise that hey, she was in drag. If only she had channeled the carnivalesque energy during the song and dance routines into some form of subversive humour or drama, would the show have been more interesting. And no matter what they say, Chieng Mun, starting the show dressed in a Halloween costume of a Merlion is neither clever nor dramatic. Just sad and so not funny.

Meanwhile the poor sound quality that only came form the speakers in the front - plus the at times overly orchestrated score that was performed on a electric piano - gave the musical parts a slightly cheap and tatty feel to it. And the highly unimaginative use of space - never once did Koh venture far from a fixed area on stage - kept a sense of distance between her and the audience. (Though it might be a good thing: because the stage erected at the front was so low that I had to constantly shift my head to see anything, I was spared parts of the musical segments.)

The show ended with on a high with a gutsy rendition of the gay anthem 'I Am What I Am' - yes, Koh Chieng Mun, we know who you are. So where were you tonight?