A Dream Under The Southern Bough - The Beginning is a fantastically imaginative journey

Actor Tang Shao Wei playing a disgraced naval officer in the theatre production A Dream Under the Southern Bough - The Beginning.
Actor Tang Shao Wei playing a disgraced naval officer in the theatre production A Dream Under the Southern Bough - The Beginning.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS
(From left) Actors Kong Xiang Chi, Audrey Luo, Gavin Xie, Tang Shao Wei (in uniform), Lei Jian and Ellison Yuyang Tan in the theatre production A Dream Under the Southern Bough - The Beginning.
(From left) Actors Kong Xiang Chi, Audrey Luo, Gavin Xie, Tang Shao Wei (in uniform), Lei Jian and Ellison Yuyang Tan in the theatre production A Dream Under the Southern Bough - The Beginning.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

SINGAPORE - Evocative and atmospheric, A Dream Under The Southern Bough - The Beginning by Toy Factory Productions takes audiences on a fantastically imaginative journey through one man's dream.

Performed in Mandarin at the School of the Arts' Studio Theatre on Monday (April 30), this theatre production is part of this year's Singapore International Festival Of Arts.

It is a modern adaptation of a 16th century epic Kun opera play, A Dream Under The Southern Bough, by revered Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu, famous for works in which dreams feature prominently, such as his most famous play The Peony Pavilion.

This production is the first of a trilogy, with the next two parts - Reverie and Existence - slated to be staged in the coming years.

In this first instalment, the main character is a disgraced naval officer played by actor Tang Shao Wei and the focus is on his intoxicated dreamland escapades while slumbering under an old sophora tree.

A pretty simple concept, that is, until these adventures start to defy logic - as dreams often do - as he discovers and travels to a mighty ant kingdom.

Like Alice in Wonderland, he meets bizarre characters who speak in riddles and make befuddling references.

Sunglasses, virtual reality games and a smart watch also make an appearance onstage, juxtaposed with the archaic language spoken by the characters, creating a surreal mish-mash of past and present, dream and reality.

But in all this ludicrousness, there is a languid ease to the officer's situation. The play's overall tone is also that of a lulling sense of calm.

Tang presents his character as a likeable everyman who merely drifts along in a complex world. As he avoids facing the troubles in his life, there is the sense that sleeping is somehow better and preferable to being awake.

In the programme booklet, director Goh Boon Teck writes about the mass-produced drama serials and commercials on television and the superficial portrayals of real life on social media. He asks: "Can this dream give city dwellers clarity and direction?"

Maybe. A dream might not make sense; it might be downright confusing.

But it can provide a comforting reprieve from a disappointing and grim reality.

BOOK IT/A DREAM UNDER THE SOUTHERN BOUGH

Where: SOTA Studio Theatre, 1 Zubir Said Drive

When: Tuesday (May 1), 3pm and 8pm

Admission: S$35 (free seating) from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)