So Wednesday finally came and I got all geared up in my traditional vintage Kebaya with Sarong and headed to the Victoria Theatre an Concert Hall for the opening ceremony of the first ever Peranakan Arts Festival. The Peranakan Arts Festival is on from 6 – 8 November 2015.
For me, it’s not often that I get the opportunity to bring on the Nonya even though I love the kebayas alot. Running around after a 6 year old, is certainly not sarong friendly hahaa.
But tonight was special, it was my first visit to a Peranakan event, plus it’s Peranakan Theatre!! so it was all things Peranakan! 🙂 Even the shoes I wore were the special beaded Peranakan shoes (Manek Slippers)
This not so little Nonya was pretty excited to watch her first Peranakan themed play, Pintu Pagar! For those who don’t understand Malay, Pintu Pagar refers to the traditional wooden swing doors often found in front of the main doors of old Peranakan shop houses and homes, sometimes nicknamed cowboy swing doors. The more decorative and ornate the door, the more well to do the family is while those of the less wealthy have much simpler doors.
Specially commissioned for the Peranakan Arts Festival, Pintu Pagar revolves around two young lovers whose path must go separately, always a missed opportunity to be together. 14 year old pragmatic Karen Tay (Kimberly Chan) is from a rich Peranakan family who dreams of walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown and being the envy of all the convent girls. Her 17 year old neighbour, Richard Lim (Nicholas Bloodworth) is a romantic and a budding lawyer, from an almost bankrupt Chinese (Singkeh) family, and falls hopelessly in love with her. Like the tale of Romeo and Juliet, their different family backgrounds guarantees a No-match.
It’s a big Wow for Kimberly Chan who plays Karen Tay! Yes, we just saw her on Saturday in SRT’s Treasure Island as Ben Gunn, Jim’s mum and Pirate Hands! And here she is playing the heroine in Pintu Pagar! Surprise surprise! How does this young 23 year old do it? Playing multiple roles in one play is admirable but running 2 shows in a week! Wow! Energy, dedication and passion, that’s what I can say. Loved her performance, she made the chilli padi pragmatic Karen real and believable and most importantly lovable. One felt for Karen’s situation and ordeals in a very close and personal way.
Veteran Actress Nora Samosir was brilliant in her dual role as both Mrs Lim and Mrs Tay. It took us almost half the play before realising that they were played by one and the same actress! And when I told the hubs it’s the same actress, he starred at me in utter disbelief! hahaa… hidden behind the make-up and costumes, Nora’s convincing acting with a total change of manner in speaking and even walking, fooled us till midway! 🙂 The same goes for the talented Henry Heng who plays both Mr Lim and Mr Tay at the same time.
I personally enjoyed the play a lot although at times it felt hopeless. I must admit, that there were many parts when my eyes turned teary especially when both lovers seemed so trapped in their own circumstances with bad timing almost always, unable to end up happily together for a good forty years. Four decades of missed chances and close encounters does call for a sad love story. I’m quite sure that most of us have a love lost in our past somewhere and this play does touch some questions about what it all could have been.
Another plus for Pintu Pagar is that the play is mostly in English with minimal Peranakan Malay being spoken, other than the usual Teo Chew dialect which most Singaporeans would be able to understand without difficulty. This is a play that could easily find an audience even after or outside of the Peranakan Arts Festival.
Pintu Pagar plays at the Victoria Concert Hall and it’s probably my first time inside the concert hall. I was in awe of the majestic interiors as I entered the concert hall early to get seated. Unfortunately, because it is a concert hall, it does not quite cater for stage changes for a play as there are no stage curtains to hide the stage during changes. This meant that stage hands had to manually cover up parts of the stage for each change of scene. This felt rather tiresome to even watch as the play continuously brought the audience from the set of the affluent Peranakan home of Karen to the simple home of Richard.
On the second night of the Peranakan Arts Festival, I dressed down from the full Peranakan ensemble and matched a vintage kebaya with jeans… modern and easy to move around 🙂 hehhe
Also, I knew I was in for a treat as I was to watch the revamp of the wildly successful 2002 production of Bibiks Behind Bars by Richard Tan. I was a little worried that the play would be entirely in Peranakan Malay and may leave the hubs and I clueless at what was going on.
The play opens with Bibik Bella Chan (Melvyn Chan) coming home to Singapore after living in London for a long time. Hoping to reconnect with her Peranakan roots, she indulges with her mah-jong kakis and falls deeper and deeper into the addiction of gambling until it becomes almost too late!There was so much laughter in the theatre that one is quite convinced that the director hit the right notes again with its Peranakan audience for this revamped version. Everyone was definitely enjoying the light hearted banter and comedy that the actors so casually put across. Bibiks Behind Bars, Kena Again! does attempt to celebrate the Peranakan culture with much singing and some dance. The plot was simple and aimed at making everyone laugh and it did achieve.
The audience roared when special guest Koh Chieng Mun came thundering onto stage as Judy Lui – Goddess of Fortune and the Casino Diva. Chieng Mun brought on the laughter so effortlessly with her booming voice and beautiful singing. I was laughing so hard at the Casino Diva and seeing Chieng Mun brought back some nostalgia … who can forget Dolly in Under One Roof!!
Although the play ends in a rather unlikely simplistic happy ending, it was a fun light hearted one to watch all the same.
Thankfully the play was a mixture of both English and Peranakan patois plus a splash of Cantonese! One must be truly Singaporean to enjoy the dialogue and definitely have some basic understanding of Peranakan Malay to fully catch what was being said onstage. The hubs who is not Peranakan said he was somewhat lost at some point. This was my first Peranakan play and I think I survived okay to perhaps make me want to try another one some time.
Both shows have a very short run and ends on 8 November, Sunday 2015. Do catch it if you would like a taste of Peranakan theatre. It’s not too late to book your tickets at SISTIC now, Bibiks Behind Bars! Kena Again http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/bibik1115 and Pintu Pagar http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/pintu1115 .
Check out the other activities at the Peranakan Arts Festival in our earlier post, it’s the best time to get a taste of Peranakan culture and mingle with the friendly Babas and Nonyas, who are all dressed up for the Peranakan Convention!
SAys! Audrey 🙂