Chinese folk tale with a cheeky twist

Ivan Heng (above, centre) dishes out edgy jokes and martial energy as Auntie Green in Mama White Snake.
Ivan Heng (above, centre) dishes out edgy jokes and martial energy as Auntie Green in Mama White Snake.PHOTO: WILD RICE



Wild Rice

Drama Centre Theatre/Sunday

Comic operatic flourishes, call and response from the audience and a cross-dressing cast so good one forgets the genders being swopped on stage - Wild Rice's year-end production ticks all the boxes for a good pantomime.

The script by Alfian Sa'at gives the Chinese folk tale of Madam White Snake a cheeky twist. The serpent spirits of legend become Mama White (Glen Goei) and Auntie Green (Ivan Heng). They bring up White's human son Meng (Andrew Marko) in relative solitude to protect him from old enemies.

Teenage Meng runs away, meets a new friend Mimi (Cheryl Tan) and enrols in the martial arts school run by her father, Fahai (Siti Khalijah Zainal).

Fahai is the old enemy the serpent sisters slithered away from. His failure to capture the snakes still rankles, so Meng and Mimi are soon embroiled in a feud between their families. Cue cheeky set pieces straight from Chinese opera (choreographer Choy Yien Chow) and multiple, merry martial arts manouevres conceived by Gordon Choy. Elegant arm flourishes and drop-kicks are executed with style and grace by Heng and nearly two dozen kids aged five to 12.


  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Until Dec 16, 7.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), 2.30pm (weekends)

    ADMISSION: From $45 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

Though slightly slow at the start, Mama White Snake is a charming, family-friendly performance designed to get the best from the audience and the cast. The actors embrace the pantomime tradition of call-and-response and whip the audience into a frenzy at key points. On Sunday, when Mama White was handed a cup of poison, the stalls rang with anxious voices begging her not to drink it. Goei stuck to the script, without offending the worried watchers.

This is Goei's first stage role here in 30 years and it is a delightfully pitched, understated performance. He balances maternal anxiety and ancient wisdom in the serene persona of Madam White. Heng provides balance with edgy jokes and martial energy as Auntie Green.

The limelight is equally shared with Siti as creaky old Fahai and Zelda Tatiana Ng as Fahai's wife, the poison expert Madam Ngiao.

Marko and Tan are believable as teenagers - albeit with mature, harmonious voices.

But the real scene-stealers come from the children's ensemble, which director Pam Oei uses to excellent effect.

Chosen from Wild Rice's training programme First Stage! and wushu school Martial House Singapore, the children tumble, somersault, wield flags and throw themselves into an epic battle while dressed as seafood.

It is wacky, wild and perfect for this performance. Adults may run the show, but pantomime is for kids to enjoy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese folk tale with a cheeky twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe