REVIEW / THEATRE
Toy Factory Productions
Victoria Theatre/Last Friday
This work by Toy Factory Productions is a love letter to the clan associations - or huay kuans - of Singapore's Chinese community.
Directed and scripted by the theatre company's chief artistic director Goh Boon Teck, the epic musical, performed in Mandarin and Hokkien, is set in Singapore from the 1890s through to the 21st century.
It recalls the trials and tribulations of the fictional Quan Ji Huay Kuan, set up by immigrants from Quanzhou, in China's Fujian province.
The main "character" in this production is the huay kuan itself. Each of the show's 10 acts revolves around the association, its building and members in a different decade.
At times, it lends a hand to those in financial hardship; at others, it serves as a space championing art and cultural preservation. During World War II, it was a relief centre.
A huay kuan can be a protector of people in need as well as a witness of the times, from joyful moments of unexpected generosity to heartbreaking tragedy and sordid scandal.
Given the focus on the association instead of individual characters, the cast did not really have much of a chance to shine.
Though theatre veteran Zelda Tatiana Ng was impressive in her many varied roles during the show, including as a bearded, pig-tailed elder.
Unfortunately, the first half of the production lacked drama and some audience members left during the interval. Also, several of the songs, which were mainly in Hokkien, were sadly forgettable.
A few, however, did a good job of expressing the huay kuan's sincerity in helping people.
With the final scenes questioning the association's continued relevance in an increasingly cynical, self-serving world, the production makes a convincing case for the preservation and revitalisation of such organisations.