Theatre review: Murder At Old Changi Hospital offers Halloween fun

Playwright Chong Tze Chien's latest interactive murder mystery unfolds in a virtual simulation of the old Changi hospital.
Playwright Chong Tze Chien's latest interactive murder mystery unfolds in a virtual simulation of the old Changi hospital.PHOTO: SIGHT LINES ENTERTAINMENT

Murder At Old Changi Hospital

Sight Lines Entertainment
Mystery location, online, Oct 8

Playwright Chong Tze Chien's latest interactive murder mystery unfolds in a virtual simulation of the old Changi hospital. Like its prequel Murder At Mandai Camp, it is a work of digital entertainment - a fun video game with theatrical elements, rather than groundbreaking theatre in all its 360-degree escape-room glory.

In Murder At Old Changi Hospital, players assume the roles of "paranormal investigators" who must solve a crime that took place 25 years ago: the alleged murder of young canteen worker Farah (Munah Bagharib) and the disappearance of four commandos who might have had something to do with her death.

Moving from room to room in the abandoned Changi Hospital, the player clicks on items that conjure flashbacks - video recordings of scenes performed by actors. Using clues to solve puzzles, unlock doors and move through the game, players eventually have enough information to guess who the murderer was.

On Oct 8, a friend and I took part in a preview of the VIP experience (now sold out), which consists of a physical escape room experience followed by the virtual gameplay. This version is supposed to take 2½ hours, longer than the 100-minute time limit (with a 10-minute extension available) for people who play just the digital game.

We entered a "detective's office" at the end of an eerie corridor in a 1970s building in downtown Singapore. Then it was time to ransack the room for clues, crack a series of puzzles and locks, and figure out the login code for the computer on which we ended up playing the virtual escape room game.

Chong, who wrote and directed the production, is a veteran playwright whose brilliant horror play Oiwa - The Ghost Of Yotsuya ran at the Victoria Theatre at this year's Singapore International Festival of Arts.

In Murder At Old Changi Hospital, Chong and Sight Lines Entertainment do a competent job with their newfangled blend of escape room gaming, theatre, film and technology. No one can complain about bad dialogue or bad acting here. Munah, known for her work on YouTube, television and stage, plays the bubbly young Farah with aplomb. Actors Joshua Lim, Jon Cancio, Andre Chong and Wayne Lim are convincing as the four commandos.

Toxic masculinity rears its head - a number of scenes recall novelist Margaret Atwood's observation that men are afraid women will laugh at them, but women feel threatened by men because they are afraid of being killed.

While technology has made for a more interactive experience, Chong's murder mystery narrative is trapped, in its own way, by the confines of the escape room genre. Escape rooms require players to draw arbitrary connections between things, and their puzzles and plots have to be solvable and parsed within a time limit. This does not lend itself well to complex, nuanced storytelling, or a satisfying denouement where the pieces fall elegantly into place.


Players must solve the alleged murder of young canteen worker Farah (Munah Bagharib) and the disappearance of four commandos who might have had something to do with her death. PHOTO: SIGHT LINES ENTERTAINMENT

The production is likely to chime with a different crowd than the sort who prefer theatre with proscenium arches. But people who just want a night of Halloween-themed escapism will probably find Murder At Old Changi Hospital entertaining enough - even if the jump scares and "creepy" soundtrack are far from terrifying.

I heard a muffled cough when I was in the escape room (either that, or my mind was playing tricks on me). In the middle of a pandemic, that was scarier than anything else you will find in a "haunted house" this Halloween.


Actors Joshua Lim, Jon Cancio, Andre Chong and Wayne Lim as the four commandos. PHOTO: SIGHT LINES ENTERTAINMENT

Book It / Murder At Old Changi Hospital

Where: Online and live
When: Digital experience till Nov 7, Fridays to Sundays, 8.30 and 10pm; the VIP live cum digital escape-room experience runs from Oct 29 to 31 but is sold out
Admission: Digital experience starts at $45
Info: Website