Toy Factory's Titoudao returning with new cast

Home-grown theatre company Toy Factory Productions is celebrating its 25th birthday this year by bringing back one of its most popular works - Titoudao.

Based on the life of Toy Factory founder Goh Boon Teck's mother, 72-year-old Madam Oon Ah Chiam, the play within a play blends her challenging personal journey as a Chinese street opera actress with the character of a loyal servant she plays on stage, the titular Titoudao.

Goh, 43, who is directing the work, says at a press conference yesterday: "If you ask me, you've directed this so many times, will you get bored of it? The answer is no! I'm still loving it. I enjoy every word of it, I enjoy creating it, I enjoy hearing it again and again."

He called the play the company's "most precious child".

Titoudao bagged five awards at the first edition of the Life! Theatre Awards in 2001, including trophies for Production of the Year and Best Original Script.

This fifth staging in Singapore will run at the Drama Centre Theatre from March 5 to 15. It will be performed in Hokkien, English and Mandarin, with English surtitles.

This is not the only work that the theatre company is reviving. The group has cultivated a repertoire of splashy Chinese musicals over the years, and audience favourite December Rains (2010), a Singapore love story spanning 30 years, will return to the Esplanade Theatre in August and September.

It is also working on a new production that will look back on 50 years of Chinese theatre in Singapore. This will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in June.

Titoudao will feature a completely new cast. Lead actress Audrey Luo, 31, steps into shoes previously filled by well-known actress Pam Oei, who won a Life! Theatre Award for her performance.

Luo remembers watching the production in 2007. She says: "I fell in love with it. That was the year I became a full-time actor and I was attracted by the whole wayang theme. I bought tickets, but because I was poor at that time, I sat all the way up in Circle 2. But all the actors blew me away."

The role of Titoudao became her dream part.

"It was at the back of my head every day. So when I heard that Boon Teck was restaging it, I was so excited."

She has been rehearsing intensively to hone her singing, particularly the subtle microtones in every phrase of Hokkien opera. The cast shadowed an opera troupe at a temple in Yishun and even performed alongside their mentors to a small crowd at a ceremony last month.

Madam Oon, who has been coaching the young cast, will be making a special appearance at all 17 performances. Speaking in Mandarin, she let slip her "surprise" cameo at the press conference, much to her son's amusement and dismay.

She says she was one of 12 children and her family lived in a kampung. When she was 13, her mother died, and a year later, she joined an opera troupe as an apprentice to make some money. She spent two years observing her seniors before she was allowed to perform.

Asked what it feels like to watch her life unfold on stage, she says: "I didn't cry, but my godmother cried, saying she never knew how difficult my life was. I've cried about all these things before, but it's all in the past. It's just part of life. We needed to eat."