Too long a detention

Actresses (from left) Natalie Yeap, Kimberly Chan, Valerie Choo and Alyssa Lie were as at ease acting as they were crooning Detention Katong's mellifluous melodies.
Actresses (from left) Natalie Yeap, Kimberly Chan, Valerie Choo and Alyssa Lie were as at ease acting as they were crooning Detention Katong's mellifluous melodies.PHOTO: DREAM ACADEMY

REVIEW / THEATRE

DETENTION KATONG

Dream Academy

Esplanade Theatre

Sunday

This musical, written by Selena Tan and directed by George Chan, centres on lovable, if high-spirited, 15-year-old schoolgirls and the relatively minor hijinks that land them in detention, two hours a day.

  • BOOK IT / DETENTION KATONG

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Till March 5, Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 3 and 8pm (except this Saturday, when it will be 8pm only)

    ADMISSION: Tickets from $50 to $150 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Its title, Detention Katong, is a play on the words of the old Malay ditty Di Tanjong Katong (At The Cape Of Katong).

The good versus the bad (read: cool) girls are from the fictitious Katong-based Geylang Girls' Secondary School, helmed by their toady of a principal Mr Cruz (a super-hammy Darius Tan). Assisting him are the discipline mistress Magdalene Ng (an overtly stentorian Neo Swee Lin), the school counsellor Richard Saw (a subtle, subdued Sebastian "Broadway Beng" Tan) and the pudgy physical education instructor Mr Ghazali (the expertly uproarious Suhaimi Yusof, complete with Elvis-like bouffant and swagger).

Young actress Valerie Choo, as the play's goody-two-shoes heroine Amanda Chin, was a revelation. Her superbly calibrated singing buoyed the Disneyesque ballads of Elaine Chan and her songwriting team, with a live three-person band to back up the 14-strong cast's mellifluous singing of the sometimes- catchy songs.

The accomplished Inch Chua as the unrepentant tomboy and the friend Amanda abandoned held her own as the musical's unlikely moral core.

Alas, most of the scenes were disjointed and the production came off like a series of skits.

This would not have mattered as much if the musical's storyline was strong. But its thin plot consisted of little more than Amanda canoodling with her loyal friend Luke (a convincing Terence Tay) in school uniform, on social media, to grab her preoccupied mother's attention. Amanda's mother, played by three-time Life Theatre Awards winner, actress Serene Chen, was impactful despite brief moments on stage.

Like many Dream Academy productions such as Dim Sum Dollies, there was social commentary aplenty - in the form of gentle digs at the bother of constant MRT breakdowns, reserving this year's Elected Presidency for Malays and how hard the "sacrifices" of the average Singaporean were, complete with background videos of the map of Singapore made up of red stars and little red dots.

Comedy was in shorter supply, with the most rib-tickling scene being an exercise session in which the girls ran around Messrs Cruz and Ghazali as they perched atop lifeguard chairs, yelling out inspirational quotes such as "forgiveness does not change the past, but it can change the future", "don't learn how to react, learn how to respond" and "hurt is how I know I'm alive".

After a 20-minute intermission, the second, and shorter, act was much more engrossing, with the first act's feel-good invocations such as "We know who you are" and "Leave them to their own devices" taking on dark meanings.

All told, this musical was replete with clever ideas, such as portraying elitist, neglectful parents as better-than-thou opera singers and ballerinas, with their umbrella-like tutus symbolising their hypocritical ditherings, as well as a ghoul-like jig in all-white uniforms to show how stifling overweening control can be.

Detention Katong was an enjoyable experiment. Now, if Tan and Chan were more judicious with its exposition, and choreographer Andy Cai even more imaginative with its routines, they might well have a hit in the making.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Too long a detention'. Print Edition | Subscribe