Hard work monkeying around

Rehearsing for Monkey Goes West is no child's play for (from far left) Joshua Goh, Beeland Anderson Parker Rogers, Shannon Lee and Josiah Tan.
Rehearsing for Monkey Goes West is no child's play for (from far left) Joshua Goh, Beeland Anderson Parker Rogers, Shannon Lee and Josiah Tan.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Acting in a kid-friendly pantomime is not child's play. The pre-teens in Wild Rice's Monkey Goes West rehearse seven hours a day - after school - and endure multiple costume changes.

The eight- to 12-year-olds take this with the aplomb of the older, professional cast in the award-winning show, restaged this month and the next at the Drama Centre Theatre.

Some of the children were in the well-received first run in 2014 or are veterans of Wild Rice's training programme for young ones, First Stage.

Eight-year-old Beeland Anderson Parker Rogers joined First Stage when she was five. She was in the 2014 run of Monkey Goes West as well as last year's The Emperor's New Clothes. "I really enjoy singing and dancing, so I enjoy it a lot," she says.

  • BOOK IT / MONKEY GOES WEST

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

    WHEN: Friday to Dec 17; 7.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays); 2.30pm (Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $50 to $80 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Ten-year-old Josiah Tan joined First Stage for the same reason when he was in Primary 1. He is now a Primary 4 pupil at Pei Chun Public School. He proves the adage that the show must go on, no matter what.

"In my first production with Wild Rice, I had a nose bleed," he says. "I had to rush to get some tissue, stick it up my nose and rush back on."

Of the 30 children in the cohort, 12 are from wushu academy Martial House and so are used to physically tiring practice sessions. Rehearsals that stretch from 3 to 10pm are no challenge.

What is harder is changing costumes while dripping in perspiration, says Primary 4 pupil Shannon Lee, from Horizon Primary School. She likes the acrobatics choreographed for Monkey Goes West, but dislikes having to change costumes in seconds between scenes. She wears five sets of clothes during the show. "There are many layers and they all stick to your body," she says.

Pantomime is theatre for kids, by kids. Wild Rice's year-end take on the British Christmas tradition has become a Singaporean favourite because it marries in-jokes for adults with top-notch performances.

Written by Alfian Sa'at, Monkey Goes West updates the legendary Journey To The West story about a monk travelling to India to find sacred scrolls.

Instead, runaway orphan Ah Tang (Joshua Lim) travels from Haw Par Villa to Jurong West in the company of the ever-hungry Pigsy (Frances Lee), loyal ogre Sandy (Siti Khalijah Zainal) and the cheeky Monkey King (Sugie Phua, who says he lost several kilograms mastering the stunts choreographed by Gordon Choy).

The 2014 production received multiple nominations at last year's Life Theatre Awards. Sebastian Tan was nominated for best director; composer Elaine Chan and music director Bang Wenfu were nominated for best sound design. They did not win, but Monkey Goes West tied with Art by Nine Years Theatre for Production Of The Year. It also received the Reader's Choice award.

Much credit goes to director Tan, who envisioned the martial arts feel. "I'm a fan of wushu and martial arts and somersaults," the 43-year- old says during rehearsals. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to see kids doing somersaults on stage?'"

Twelve-year-old Joshua Goh agrees. The Primary 6 pupil at Gongshang Primary School was in the 2014 show too.

He says: "I enjoy being a monkey on stage because I can do what I learn in gymnastics, like front flips." He offers to demonstrate.

He and his friends have one grouse: that they do not get to see their production on stage.

"But I get to make new friends," says Josiah. "And sometimes, the cast makes us laugh."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Hard work monkeying around'. Print Edition | Subscribe