Goh Poh Seng’s novel If We Dream Too Long adapted as dinner theatre for three weekends

Actors Alyssa Lie and Chin Rui Yuan (both above) will interact with participants at the event.
Actors Alyssa Lie and Chin Rui Yuan (both above) will interact with participants at the event.PHOTO: ORHSOME! PRODUCTIONS

If We Dream Too Long is a four-course interactive dinner theatre event of Singapore's first novel of the same title

Step back in time to late 1960s Singapore and interact at a dinner with Kwang Meng, the protagonist of Singapore's first novel, If We Dream Too Long.

The Singapore Writers Festival has commissioned an interactive four-course dinner event centred on the bildungsroman by the late literary pioneer, Goh Poh Seng.

Beginning today, it runs over three weekends till May 29.

The production, organised by pop-up events company Andsoforth and the National Arts Council, is in line with the festival's direction to take the word off the page and make literature more accessible to new audiences, says festival director Yeow Kai Chai.

He adds: "Since last year, we have expanded our programming to include writing from across all genres such as film, music, visual arts, dance and theatre. That's why we approached Andsoforth's Ms Emily Png and Mr Stuart Wee, who have staged fun and interactive dining experiences, and asked them to adapt a Singapore text."

Unlike other dinner events with entertainment, the audience of If We Dream Too Long will not remain in one location, but will move through five rooms - one course in each room plus another for pre-dinner drinks. The rooms represent Kwang Meng's primary hangouts, such as the beach or his home.

  • BOOK IT / ANDSOFORTH & SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL PRESENT IF WE DREAM TOO LONG

  • WHERE: Venue will be revealed to ticket-holders 24 hours before the event 

    WHEN: Today to Sunday, May 20 to 22 and May 28 and 29. Various timings

    ADMISSION: $88

    INFO: www.andsoforth.com.sg/if-we-dream-too-long

At each setting, diners will meet and interact with other characters, including Kwang Meng's parents and Lucy, a bar girl. They have to be prepared to carry a conversation with the cast that would have been commonplace in the 1960s, when smartphones were but a far-fetched idea.

Mobile phones are allowed, but have to be kept on silent mode, says Ms Png. "The actors might react when they see a person using their phone as the gadget didn't exist back then," adds the Andsoforth co-founder.

While Andsoforth has organised similar events before, Mr Wee, the company's co-founder, tells The Straits Times that this production is the company's most interactive one yet: "Each round will have up to 15 people, so the diners will not just be eating, but interacting with the characters too. "

Although neither Mr Wee, 29, nor Ms Png, 26, comes from a theatre background, they are directing the actors in the production.

Emphasising that the focus here is not just on the acting, Ms Png says: "We give a direction on what we want guests to experience in each scene and the actors play a large role in bringing it to life. Most of it is improv."

This brings forth a new type of challenge for the actors.

Freelance actor Te Hao Boon, 22, is one of three performers who will play Kwang Meng. He says: "Most Singaporeans are not used to this type of theatre, so what we have to do is get them to participate."

Poet and photographer Marc Nair, 34, came on board to adapt the 1972 novel, suggesting the five settings and characters to include in the dinner. Noting the physical and temporal limitations of the production, he says: "It isn't just a play, but interactive dinner theatre. So time has to be allocated to serving and eating food."

Each night, the event will take six to eight rounds of diners, each group separated by a 30-minute interval. Participants at the 1 hour 45 minute dinner event will spend about 20 minutes at each setting before Kwang Meng leads them to the next place.

The location of the event will be kept secret and revealed to ticket-holders 24 hours before the event. Tickets cost $88 each.

The menu of local dishes, curated by chef Chung Deming of modern Singaporean eateries The Quarters and Kush, is also a secret.

Trainee teacher Sandra Chan, who has not read the novel, will be attending the event with her friend.

The 23-year-old says: "I've heard of interactive theatre before, but never interactive dinner theatre. Food and theatre - what's not to like?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Staging a tasty treat of the 1960s'. Print Edition | Subscribe