Time Out Singapore: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ Review

8 Dec 2015: There’s nothing like winding down at the end of a big, action-packed year with a big, action-packed pantomime. And who else can we count on delivering that but Wild Rice? This time, the company took on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and turned it into a full-fledged song-and-dance show. Here are five magical elements that make the – very localised – production such a delight for the whole family.

The Emperor's New Clothes

The cast

The great Lim Kay Siu leads a brilliant cast of emerging and established talent. The Sam Willows’ Benjamin Kheng and fellow pop singer Sezairi have a wonderful dynamic as the tailors Nathan and Khairul, while Andrew Lua, Siti Khalijah and Benjamin Wong make for the ultimate comedic trio as government ministers.

The songs

The music is without a doubt the strongest element of the production, brought to life by three musicians as well as the actors themselves (who knew Lim Kay Siu could play the violin so well?) It took every bit of self-restraint for us not to triumphantly yell out the lyrics to ‘Naked as My Butt’ as we exited the theatre.

The costumes (or lack thereof)

The play revolves around the 50th edition of the ‘NDP’ – that’s ‘New Dress Parade’, natch – as there’s nothing Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun adores more than his clothes. In fact, he decided that an air-conditioned dome would be built over his kingdom just so he could break out his Fall/Winter pieces.

The set

The set here is, typical of Wild Rice productions, a sight to behold. We’re especially impressed by the dungeon scene, during which the huge birdcages used to imprison innocent people whom the Emperor disliked cinematically haunt the stage.

The jokes

A panto ain’t a panto without the laughs – and there’s certainly no shortage of that. Case in point: Khai No Surname and Nate No Surname’s tailor shop is a mash-up of their names, ‘KNN’. At the Emperor’s request, the name gets upgraded to include ‘Costume Custom Bespoke’ at the end, which also gets abbreviated. We’ll leave it at that.

Time Out Singapore: Sebastian Tan

He’s best known for being the Hokkien-spewing, show tune-singing, glitter-loving Broadway Beng, but Sebastian Tan will be stepping into bigger shoes this month: He’ll be making his Wild Rice directorial debut by helming the company’s annual pantomime. Written by Alfian Sa’at, Monkey Goes West is based on the legendary Chinese story of Journey to the West, and as expected from the theatre company, it’ll bear a local twist. Gwen Pew chats with Tan before the show opens.

Sebastian Tan (Monkey Goes West)

5 Nov 2014:

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While it’s not Tan’s first time directing – he has previously directed shows as part of Singapore Management University’s Arts Festival and assistant directed with Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Little Company – he still gets a rush of emotions ahead of rehearsals: ‘I’m feeling nervous, excited, powerful, happy, anxious, fabulous – the whole works. I’m like a pregnant lady now, ready to give birth come 21 November. Now, push! Breathe! Push some more!’

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It was Tan who suggested staging a play based on Journey to the West: ‘When Ivan Heng [Wild Rice’s artistic director] first approached me about directing a musical,I wanted to bring something different to the usual Wild Rice panto table. I chose something that speaks to me, but is also an epic story that’s popular in both the East and the West.’

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The story is one that he’s loved since he was a child: The endless adventures part of the monk, Tripitaka (who is Singaporean in this adaptation), and his disciples Monkey, Sandy and Piggy evoked so much of my imagination even to this day. I love it for its richness in terms of story, themes, colours, costumes, sets, lights… everything!’

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He sees the transition from actor to director as a natural one: ‘As an actor, I’m like a kid, playing and exploring. As a director, I’m like the kid growing up to be an adult – I draw from the many experiences I had as a kid and apply them to what I do. I have a lot more responsibilities and a wider, broader vision, and I believe it will make me grow even more artistically.’

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He’s focussed on Monkey Goes West, but he’s already booked up until 2016: ‘I’ve started to work on some projects, like my concert with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra next year, and the Broadway Beng movie is out in 2016, so watch out!’