>bibiks behind bars by the peranakan association

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 13 sep 2002
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>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.


The Peranakan community turned out in droves for this one, filling the Kallang Theatre with kebaya-clad women fluttering their handkerchiefs at each other. I watched BIBIKS BEHIND BARS on the second night of its two-night run, feeling distinctly out of place as possibly the only non-Peranakan member of the audience, as far as I could tell, here for an evening of fifties music and other nostalgia.

The production is one of those success stories designed to warm the heart - a community theatre production that did so well it secured a transfer to the Kallang. From the start, though, it retains that warm-hearted, small-town 'Hey, let's do the show right here in the barn' feel as the entire, vast cast trooped onto the stage for the opening number, rather like a community centre singalong.

The plot is straightforward enough - a large group of bibiks gather at their friend Kim Choo's house for a friendly game of mahjong, only to get herded into the back of a black maria for illegal gambling. The action was underlined by a steady commentary from the bibiks in the audience around me, so the onstage events were punctuated with remarks like "Aiyoh, her baju so sayang" or "That one mabok already" - possibly the closest the theatre can come to surround-sound.

>>'BIBIKS BEHIND BARS is a fine example of community theatre at its best'

All of this takes place on a lovely two-level set, representing an old-fashioned one-up one-down apartment in Joo Chiat. The costumes are similarly colourful, and the acting immensely cheerful, with Noorlinah Mohamed standing out as the flighty Amy, dragging her boyfriend to the latest movie ('From Here to Eternity'). The biggest laughs of the evening were drawn by Jessie Cheang as a deliciously dippy maid.

My one complaint concerns the surtitles, which took more than one scene to appear and then flitted inconclusively across the screen. One speech would often stay up across four or five exchanges, rendering the dialogue near-impossible to understand. The gales of laughter greeting lines like "I was talking to the old lady across the road" suggest either that the Peranakan sense of humour is very odd indeed, or, more likely, that the surtitles were badly misrepresenting the text.

I later found out that this was the result of the performers improvising a large number of their lines - normal, apparently, in Peranakan theatre. While I'm all for spontaneity on the stage, it's difficult to understand why you would bill a show as being in Peranakan patois with surtitles, when these weren't really going to follow the dialogue.

BIBIKS BEHIND BARS is a fine example of community theatre at its best - fresh, lively, entertaining. It has tuneful songs interspersed with what appears from audience reaction to be some cracklingly funny dialogue - I just wish that the surtitles had been better managed so that I could have been in on the joke.