>MEE POK MAN by Fiction Farm

>reviewed by eugene tan

>date: 19 oct 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: singapore international convention and exhibition Centre
>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 is almost unavoidable in reviewing the stage version of a movie to make comparisons, this review however can safely make absolutely none, the reviewer having never seen the said movie (he was too young at the time of its release).

So this play will be judged entirely on its merits or demerits, whichever the case might be and there were plenty of each to make this reviewer's job very difficult.

Adapted for the stage by Goh Boon Teck and directed by Ng Chin Han this play had a lot going for it. Essentially a love story between the titular hawker and a prostitute, it featured strong acting from beginning to end. A suitably socially inept mee pok man played by Benjamin Heng (now about those hotly reported nudey scenes, what the hell was he wearing?) and a wonderfully vulnerable prostitute, Bunny, played by Cynthia Lee were supported by an equally competent if not brilliant cast. Pamela Oei as Mabel, an older, more experienced prostitute and Chermaine Ang as Jane, a drugged out prostitute were convincing in their portrayals - let down, perhaps, by script and direction.

>>'Felt like a bunch of educated success stories presenting a tale about this island's hidden and forgotten ones'

First of all, script. This was not a newly devised play, there was a primary script to work with, one adapted for the stage by Goh Boon Teck of Toy Factory Theater Ensemble. An excellent creative choice, writing a script featuring characters who would not normally speak good English but rather a lingo that is definitely more "street", especially in light of work such as his own 'Titoudou', but, unfortunately, it proved less of a success this time around. A problem with producing local English theatre is that we are never sure what to do with characters who would not logically speak the language if they were real people. Much ground has been broken in this respect. Everything from having characters speak in accented English, as in 'Three Children', to the other extreme of going multilingual without any translation, as in the case of 'Lao Jiu' - both effective in their own way; the solution chosen for MEE POK MAN though was sadly not. Characters spoke in a mixture of dialect, English and Mandarin (with English translations). While the accents were generally spot on - kudos to actors and director - the choice of words just often seemed out of the possible vocabulary of the characters involved. So we were never sure if these characters were educated or not. While we are aware that Bunny went to school, we are not sure if Mabel was her English teacher turned corrupt. To the credit of all involved though, Hokkien vulgarities were 100% properly pronounced, it's just so good to here a properly uttered "C*** B**" (edited for the sake of the faint-hearted - Editor) on stage.

Secondly, there wasn't a lot of a story to tell, so there really wasn't too much for any of the people involved in creating this world of MEE POK MAN to work with, and so the play at two hours dragged a little and was altogether a little bit predictable. This is where the direction could have done with some help. If Loke Loo Pin as the fortune teller had not helpfully translated her prophesies for us from Cantonese to English, some in the audience might not have guessed what was going to happen in the end, but since she did, the audience could have left at the interval for a bit supper and never come back. You could guess the ending; in fact, you'd have seen it. Problem, problem.

To the director's credit, the pacing of the show was appropriate, not too slow, and it couldn't have been fast anyway. The set was excellent, telling the story of misfits with circles trying to fit in square spaces and simple basic colours of red, black and white. Excellent work by Goh Boon Teck.

Still, MEE POK MAN ultimately felt like a bunch of educated success stories presenting a tale about this island's hidden and forgotten ones, those whose dreams are never realized. Speaking of unrealized dreams, to the man who answered his ringing cellular phone in the second half of the show, we all heard you, and this reviewer wishes that you were dead.