Why Chestnuts 50 lost 40 minutes

MDA says script was sent in late and "problematic segments" could not be processed in time

The Media Development Authority Singapore (MDA) has explained why a popular parody sketch show was cut by 40 minutes before its opening last Thursday.

It says in a statement that the script for Chestnuts 50: The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition was sent in late and "several problematic segments concerning an ongoing court case" could not be processed in time.

After these segments were dropped, the authority issued a licence for the show to proceed.

Last Friday, writer-director Jonathan Lim told the audience that his team was told just hours before the opening show a day earlier to remove about 40 minutes of a central sketch inspired by the case of teen blogger Amos Yee or forfeit their arts entertainment licence.

Pre-show publicity before the licence was issued included an article in Today newspaper which made it clear the highlight of the performance, subtitled The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition, would be a musical about the 16-year-old. Yee was tried and found guilty earlier this year of making remarks intending to hurt the feelings of Christians in a video and of uploading an obscene image.

Facebook teasers and publicity photos for Chestnuts 50 also showed cast member Joshua Lim wearing a wig and glasses unmistakeably similar to Yee's hair and style.

MDA issued a statement yesterday saying: "MDA only received the final script for Chestnuts 50 on Sept 4. Despite the late application, we processed the content expeditiously. There were, however, several problematic segments concerning an ongoing court case which could not be processed in time. After Artsolute dropped the segment, MDA issued a licence for the rest of the performance to proceed."

The script was received less than two weeks before the opening night, when guidelines for the licence application on MDA's website say submissions for a licence should be made at least two months before the day of the event.

A spokesman for the show's producer, Artsolute, says that "the MDA team has been absolutely cooperative and supportive of our work and the nature of our work, and have been for the many years Chestnuts has been around".

"They continue to help make the show happen in spite of our late scripts, which is also the nature of shows that talk about and reflect current affairs".

The Chestnuts team's signature style is mashing up recent headlines with popular musical numbers. The show, which started in 1996, has a history of presenting political parody, with the 2013 edition Chestnuts 6.9: The Less Miserable White Paper revolving around the outcry that year over the unpopular 6.9 million population projection in a White Paper. Two years before that, iChestnuts15 took on the 2011 General Election.

Speaking to Life, Lim says he was surprised by the reason MDA gave to cut the Yee sketch since another segment referencing an ongoing court case was passed.

The current Chestnuts 50 performance includes a part inspired by the City Harvest mega-church case, where its founder and five others are alleged to have misused church funds.

Lim says the Yee sketch would have ended both halves of the show, which is typically nearly three hours long, but lasted less than 150 minutes last Friday.

He has not lost hope that he might be allowed to perform the sketch some day, but says what is most important to him now is that Chestnuts 50 finishes its run.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Why Chestnuts 50 lost 40 minutes'. Print Edition | Subscribe