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Funny, fast-paced, free-wheeling
WHEN Glen Goei and Ivan Heng first appeared on stage, cross-dressed to the nines and simultaneously calling each other "sister", you know you're in for a lunatic whirl of a treat.
Playing the mythical figures White Snake and Green Snake, respectively, the stage pairing of the two drama kings - or queens - is so perfect, you wonder why no one's thought of it before.
Mama White Snake is W!ld Rice's latest annual pantomime. Written by Alfian Sa'at and directed by Pam Oei, the superbly entertaining production is inspired by the ancient Chinese folktale of Madame White Snake and her sworn sister Green Snake, two immortal snakes that can transform themselves into beautiful women.
In this localised twist replete with Singlish jokes and pop culture references, Mama White Snake and Auntie Green Snake are raising a sheltered teenage boy (Andrew Marko) who is oblivious to his mother's and aunt's anguine shape-shifting ways.
Eager to see what the outside world has to offer, he runs away from home and falls for a teenage girl (Cheryl Tan) who happens to be the daughter of the snakes' arch nemesis, terrapin-turned-monk Fahai (Siti Khalijah Zainal) and his wife Madam Ngiao (Zelda Tatiana Ng).
By now, W!ld Rice's pantomime has achieved something close to cult greatness. While ostensibly designed for kids, its multi-layered goofiness actually works best for adults who can grasp the subversive wit and sight gags on more levels. Kids lap up the genial comedy, but it's the adults who are left sniggering.
At the big loving heart of Mama White Snake is the same "agenda" the theatre company has been pushing since its inception: Respect for human diversity and love for your family members, even if they happen to be a little different - which, in this case, means a penchant for sssssibilants and small rats.
Playwright Alfian, who's demonstrated a deep interest in various cultures, is taking his second stab at Chinese mythology after the 2014 runaway hit Monkey Goes West which was based on the adventures of Wukong the Monkey King. His sitcom-snappy patter and au courant references are weaved around an ultimately reverential retelling of the myth.
Director Oei keeps the proceedings fun, fast-paced and free-wheeling with appropriate wink-winky moments for audiences familiar with Singapore's social issues and the personae of Goei and Heng.
As for Goei, much has been made about the fact that this is his first stage role in 30 years. But few might have guessed that Goei's silky-smooth speaking voice also converts readily to a beautiful singing voice.
And while his best friend Heng is eclipsed in the singing stakes - Heng's voice is sultry and hoarse - Heng more than makes up for it with his bang-on perfect delivery of complex Chinese opera gestures and wushu moves.
Romantic leads Marko and Tan are charismatic and sing beautifully together, while Siti Khalijah deserves special mention for her comic instincts - few actors can milk so much humour out of even the smallest moments.
The top-notch creative team includes Singapore's best musical composer Elaine Chan, set designer Wong Chee Wai and sound designer Shah Tahir, as well as Thailand's Tube Gallery for the exquisite costumes.
Myths like the White Snake and Green Snake live forever. But it takes a brilliant group of creatives to breathe fresh, alacritous life into them. Looking at Mama White Snake and Auntie Green Snake, you'd never guess they're 5,000 years old.
- Mama White Snake plays at the Drama Centre Theatre till Dec 16. Tickets from Sistic.