Theatre review: Ring-a Ring-o' Rosie is a madcap adventure

Theatre Gumbo & Hatch Theatrics

The Substation Theatre/Friday

There are several variations to this popular nursery rhyme, but they all end the same way - we all fall down.

Tumbling through Ring-a Ring-o' Rosie, however, is a little bit more like falling through the same rabbit hole that Alice did on the way to Wonderland. It is a ridiculous, madcap, and mostly enjoyable venture into absolutely buffoonery.

This tie-up between emerging Singapore company Hatch Theatrics and the wild and wacky Theatre Gumbo from Japan is a cultural explosion of the best kind, with ideas flying so thick and fast it has hard to process the uproariousness of one scene before another immediately begins to unfold.

I might attempt to describe Rosie as a vampire-regeneration-romance-human-condition musical cabaret, but no amount of hyphens between genres will really capture the many-legged creature this production is.

There is the angel Gabriel (Yuko Nishimura), a petite, pink-wigged fairy creature who might have fallen from the pages of a comic book. She is a pharmaceutical sales representative with a penchant for magic tricks - actual magic tricks, which she does often - and a mastery of live percussion. Her job is to help humans find happiness, although she does get a little distracted along the way; she also helps to introduce the play.

Then there are four vampires in the medical profession - two nurses, a surgeon and a head doctor - who run the Peaceful Hospital (anything but). They claim to have stopped drinking human blood, which has become increasingly tainted by disease and suffering. And finally there are the humans, two of the hospital's patients, who knit the entire production together: Faizal Abdullah as Worry and Kayo Tamura as Maria. They eventually fall in love, but not without some very long-drawn plot machinations to get them there.

Rosie is at its best when it doesn't try to feed the audience "the moral of the story", but instead runs wild with its endless list of subverted fairy tale tropes, discarding all logic along the way. Boy meets girl, but in the most ridiculous way possible, their road to falling in love is littered with the psychedelic deconstruction of every stereotype in the book (there is a samurai swordfight worth waiting for), not to mention the angels and vampires prancing joyfully about, interrupting this romance with their own ulterior motives.

The production gleefully rubbishes all naturalist theatre conventions as well. The subtitles often take on a life of their own, famous songs (think Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, Aladdin's A Whole New World) have their lyrics overhauled, there is a bit of TV game show-esque audience participation, and the constant use of hilarious lo-fi effects. In the aforementioned samurai sword fight, the ensemble dashes about, screaming: "blood blood blood blood!" as they mime blood gushing out of their torsos.

There was a point about 45 minutes in, when the Japanese and Singaporean actors swapped languages (Japanese and Malay) where I put down my pen and simply let the experience wash over me.

It was a fabulous experience, no doubt, but I gained nothing especially substantial from this pantomime on speed, like consuming a grand amount of delicious cotton candy only to realise you've been eating a great deal of sugar and air.

The ensemble boasts incredible energy levels and infectious enthusiasm, which is very enlivening, but also means that certain quieter scenes can pull the entire show to a halt as the audience becomes accustomed to the extreme pace.

Good for the first time, perhaps, but I get the sense that consuming too much of this saturated cotton candy might give you a tummyache.

book it

RING-A RING-O' ROSIE

Where: The Substation Theatre

When: July 12, 3pm and 8pm

Admission: $15 to $20 from The Substation Box Office (call 6337-7800 or e-mail boxoffice@substation.org)

corriet@sph.com.sg

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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