There is something hollow about this edition of annual parody show Chestnuts but it is not because of writer-director Jonathan Lim or his versatile cast and crew.
He and returning cast Judee Tan and Dwayne Lau continue to impress with their vivacious vocals and high-octane performances. Newcomers Joshua Lim and Faizal Abdullah are equally unforgettable as the script sends them smoothly from scenes of comedy to tear-jerking pathos.
We even get to see real magic on stage in a sketch poking fun at mega-churches and the father- daughter act of Lawrence and Priscilla Khong, who proselytise through acts of illusion.
Chestnuts delivers what fans have come to expect: the digs at the past year's headlines, from Jubilee celebrations to the narrow corridors of the HDB blocks in Pasir Ris created under the Design, Build and Sell Scheme.
There are the expected hyper-sexual jokes that have us groundlings howling and then the breathtaking volte-face as the men and women on stage switch seamlessly into serious mode.
REVIEW / THEATRE
CHESTNUTS 50: THE UNBELYEEVABLE JUBILEE EDITION
Drama Centre Theatre/ Last Friday
Tears of laughter turn into inheld breaths at the sweetness of a cappella vocals paying tribute to the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
BOOK IT / CHESTNUTS 50: THEUNBELYEEVABLE JUBILEE EDITION
WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
WHEN: Till Sunday,8pm (tomorrow to Sunday) and3pm (Saturday and Sunday)
ADMISSION: $45,$55 and $65 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or goto www.sistic.com.sg)
Alongside the usual spoof round-up of the year's plays is a sensitive recreation of iconic lines from 50 years of Singapore theatre - inspired by The Studios: Fifty staging of these works earlier this year at the Esplanade - and by itself worth the price of admission.
Comedy can be the conscience of a country and its fun-house mirror allows viewers to either reconcile with their flaws through laughter or vow to do better in the future.
Chestnuts has taken its role of jester more seriously over the years. The 2013 edition juxtaposed the angst of downtrodden French citizenry in Les Miserables with the protests in Singapore over the population White Paper; an earlier edition, iChestnuts15, summarised the entire course of the 2011 General Election in a few unforgettable musical stand-offs.
Walking into Chestnuts 50: The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition, one was expecting more about the recently concluded General Election and other important headlines such as the arrest and imprisonment of teen blogger Amos Yee for his video posts challenging the Lee legacy and allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
Towards the end of the 150-minute show, Lim explains that he and his cohorts were told just hours before the opening show last Thursday by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to excise about 40 minutes of a central sketch inspired by Yee or forfeit the arts entertainment licence.
MDA has said that this is because the script was sent late, on Sept 4, and therefore could not be processed in time. Its website guidelines state that arts groups should send in applications at least two months in advance.
The Amos Yee case has divided Singapore society and made international headlines too. Some agree with the judgment, others say the 16-year-old has been treated harshly.
What Stages would have had to say about this, we may not ever know.
How tragic, given Chestnuts' record of raising more issues with a few jokes than academics can with entire theses and, as importantly, sending audiences away to think things through with a smile.