Bounty of Bibiks, Babas

First Peranakan Arts Festival in November will feature plays, art and sale of clothes and furniture

Actors in the Peranakan plays include (from far left) Dennis Heng, Shirley Tay, Richard Chia, Andriana Tanubrata, Melvyn Chew, Kimberly Chan, Jackie Pereira, Nicholas Bloodworth, Francis Hogan, Reggie Ismail, Koh Chieng Mun and Henry Heng. At the bac
Actors in the Peranakan plays include (from far left) Dennis Heng, Shirley Tay, Richard Chia, Andriana Tanubrata, Melvyn Chew, Kimberly Chan, Jackie Pereira, Nicholas Bloodworth, Francis Hogan, Reggie Ismail, Koh Chieng Mun and Henry Heng. At the back are festival artistic director Richard Tan and festival director Joyce Lim.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

If you have wanted to watch bibiks in kebayas behaving badly, now is your chance. Bibiks Behind Bars... Kena Again! by Richard Tan is one of two plays that will premiere at the inaugural Peranakan Arts Festival in November.

A sequel to Tan's 2001 musical Bibiks Behind Bars, the new musical comedy follows a diverse cast of babas and nyonyas from the first musical adapting to life in the modern era while struggling to hold on to their Peranakan traditions. The show will feature male actors playing bibik roles, a throwback to Peranakan theatre and wayang traditions.

Tan, who is also artistic director of the festival, tells Life: "We're interested in how we as a community are moving forward and what our heritage means in this day and age. How do we pass on our legacy to the next generation?"

Bibiks Behind Bars... Kena Again! will feature a mix of Peranakan and non-Peranakan actors, including Francis Hogan and Shirley Tay, who will be reprising their roles from the first Bibiks Behind Bars.

Other actors include theatre veteran Catherine Sng, as well as a special guest appearance by Koh Chieng Mun.

Organised by The Peranakan Association, which seeks to preserve and promote Peranakan culture, the five-day festival will showcase Peranakan art and traditions, besides the premiere of the two full-length plays. The other play is Pintu Pagar.


    WHERE: Empress Place

    WHEN: Nov 4 to 8, 10am to 9pm

    ADMISSION: Free (ticketed events at various prices available from Sistic)

    INFO: Go to


    WHERE: Victoria Theatre

    WHEN: Nov 4, 7.30pm; Nov 6, 2.30 and 7.30pm; Nov 7 and 8, 11am

    ADMISSION: $45 to $75 from Sistic (call 96438-5555 or go to



    WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall

    WHEN: Nov 5, 8pm; Nov 6 and 7, 3 and 8pm; Nov 8, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $45 to $85 from Sistic

At the launch party last week, festival organisers spoke about the state of Peranakan culture, whilecast members performed a preview of the new plays.

Festival director Joyce Lim says: "The idea came about when we realised that the annual Baba Nyonya Convention will be held in Singapore this year. We thought, since it's our golden jubilee year, we might as well make it an entire festival dedicated to Peranakan arts as there has been a recent spike in interest in the heritage and culture."

The annual Baba Nyonya Convention is held in a different country in South-east Asia each year and provides a platform for Peranakans to get together and discuss their culture and heritage, alongside cultural performances from various countries. Previous locations included Malacca and Jakarta.

The second play premiering at the festival, Pintu Pagar, will be a romantic drama about two star- crossed Peranakan lovers. Their parents will be played by veteran actors Nora Samosir and Henry Heng.

Pintu Pagar, literally "fence door", refers to the traditional decorated Peranakan doors at the front of houses and was a symbol of wealth for the family living there.

The play was written by Desmond Sim, who grew up in a Peranakan household. He says: "The community used to be very prescriptive and strict on what counts for authentic Peranakanness, but it has since opened up.

"I found that writing a distinctly Peranakan play was very comforting, because I went back to the voice of my childhood."

He is also one of the featured visual artists at the festival, having painted a series cheekily titled Neo-nyas depicting Peranakan women in traditional garb, but armed with modern technology such as smartphones and blenders. He is joined by artists Adeline Yeo and Carolyn Law, whose works will offer different interpretations of Peranakan culture.

Said Mr Alan Koh, first vice- president of the Peranakan Association and adviser for the festival: "There's a Peranakan diaspora in the Asian-Pacific region and so many of them are looking for their roots and identity."

The festival will be held at the new Jubilee Lawn in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place, set to be completed at the end of this month. The open space will feature a "Ba-bazaar", where visitors can buy traditional Peranakan garb and furniture, as well as a community stage where traditional joget dancers will perform. But with all the talk of connecting to Generation Z, will the event attract the young?

Said Bennedict Leong, 22, a theatre practitioner at the launch party: "I'm not Peranakan, but I came to find out more about Peranakan culture. The event was lively and cheerful, so I'll definitely be there in November."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Bounty of Bibiks, Babas'. Subscribe