Comic relief

Judee Tan (left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal are brilliant in their good-natured send-ups of racial stereotypes.
Judee Tan (left) and Siti Khalijah Zainal are brilliant in their good-natured send-ups of racial stereotypes.PHOTO: DREAM ACADEMY

Siti Khalijah Zainal and Judee Tan show that those who have the last laugh are those who can laugh at themselves together

REVIEW / THEATRE

MEENAH AND CHEENAH

Dream Academy

Victoria Theatre

Last Friday

When stars align, much merriment ensues, as it did this night with super troupers Siti Khalijah Zainal and Judee Tan, under the tight, deft and trusting direction of the ever- astute Selena Tan.

Their riotous two-woman act sent up the average Janes of the Malay and Chinese communities here in a series of sharp, snappy skits, each set against defining Singaporean moments, such as doing national service or giving birth to a Jubilee baby.

Priscil Poh's stark, nifty staging - with a few doffs to wayang kulit (the Malay art of shadow play) - gave full props to Theresa Chan's tasteful, gorgeous costumes. The resulting laugh-out-loud spectacle was bookended by rousing renditions of "One People, One Nation, One Singapore/That's the way that we have been/No need angmoh". How the audience fell about with laughter.

Fresh from her Best Actress win at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, Siti Khalijah was a force of nature, nailing every nuance of Meenah's impulsive, languorous and street-smart ways.

Judee Tan was her perfect foil as the anxious, ambitious and inquisitive Cheenah, never over-playing her hand in even the most over-the-top instances, such as when she, as homesick China princess Hang Li Po, yapped at cross-purposes with Siti Khalijah as handmaiden Dayang, who was trying her darnedest to introduce the culture of Malaccan royals to her. That very cleverly showed how easy it was to get along with utter strangers if one wanted to, despite massive misunderstandings.

Each even had a showcase of body language, with Cheenah first hopping and bopping like the Energizer bunny to a Mandopop mish-mash, after which Meenah gyrated most suggestively to Beyonce.

  • BOOK IT / MEENAH AND CHEENAH

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Sunday, 8pm (tomorrow to Friday and Sunday), 4pm (Saturday and Sunday)

    ADMISSION: $50 to $200, excluding booking fee (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

Thus did those in the audience whose best friends were Meenahs or Cheenahs melt with joy at how genuine and good-natured the actresses were in mining even the seamier facets of everyday life here, from having sex on HDB staircases to a sequence in which Cheenah held her smartphone high above her face for more flattering selfies, while Meenah just stuffed hers between her ample breasts for the same purpose.

It was comic relief of the highest order and proof that those who can laugh at themselves together, have the last laugh.

The evening's high point came in plumes of dry ice when Tai Tai the hungry ghost (Judee Tan) crept hither and thither, marvelling at her Seventh Month bounty, including a cardboard car her son had burnt in tribute to her. Alas, as he had not thought to burn parking coupons for it, she got a ticket from Siti Khalijah as Pontianak the parking attendant, all stentorian efficiency on her hoverboard.

"Last year," Pontianak intoned to Tai Tai, "a VIP person died" and that VIP had since set up a very Singaporean government in the realm of the afterlife. So, Pontianak added, Tai Tai would have to put 20 per cent of her hell money into CPF. "Died already, how to retire?" wailed Tai Tai. "Good question, no answer," Pontianak retorted, to rapturous applause.

One had to wonder, however, why lead writer Alfian Sa'at - helped by Rishi Budhrani, Josiah Ng and Fakkah Fuzz - did not plumb fresher social issues more, such as discrimination against Malay job-seekers, rather than milking, say, the usual $100 Malay weddings at void decks for laughs. They were entirely capable of being more current as shown in their NSmen scene, which was a reminder of how more women are signing up for national service today.

The evening was largely an exercise in gentle ribbing, one which might have Meenahs and Cheenahs grinning at each other knowingly, and sheepishly, if they were in the audience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Comic relief'. Print Edition | Subscribe