Stage-to-screen Titoudao is Fann Wong's first series in English

Nick Shen in full wayang getup for Titoudao. PHOTO: MEDIACORP

SINGAPORE - Working on a drama about wayang - or Chinese street opera - was no walk in the park for the cast of the new Mediacorp drama Titoudao: Inspired By The True Story Of A Wayang Star.

The stage to screen adaptation of local playwright and Toy Factory founder Goh Boon Teck's play Titoudao - based on the life of his mother Oon Ah Chiam, a street wayang performer popular in the 1950s and 1960s - had to look authentic.

It is available for free on meWATCH (formerly known as Toggle) and also airs Tuesdays at 9.30pm on Channel 5.

Malaysian actress Koe Yeet, who plays Madam Oon from her teenage years to adulthood in the series, says she underwent intense training over three days. "It's not very easy to get a teacher, and when we did, we had eight hours of training everyday for three days. I was very worried because with wayang, if you don't know, you don't know, you can't fake it. I didn't want to forget my moves."

All the wayang singing and performances in the series are done by the actors themselves, without the help of stand-ins or dubbing.

The 28-year-old actress also met with Madam Oon, 77, to better understand her life. Madam Oon, who grew up in poverty, was a member of the Hokkien wayang troupe Sin Sai Hong.

"She was so bubbly and positive. When she met me, she told me: 'You're going to be me right? Let me teach you some gestures,'" says Koe.

The actress says much of the credit for the wayang scenes goes to fellow actor Nick Shen, who is a passionate advocate for the art and a practitioner with his own Teochew wayang troupe Lao Sai Tao Yuan.

Shen plays the troupe master of Sin Sai Hong.

The 43-year-old, who was also creative consultant for the series, says: "I have my own troupe so I have access to costumes and headgear. I brought about 100kg of costumes to Ipoh, where we filmed."

He called Sin Sai Hong veterans on the telephone to go over details of costumes, make-up and performances with them to ensure that details portrayed in the drama stayed true to Sin Sai Hong's aesthetic.

"Madam Oon and a few other Sin Sai Hong veterans also came down to Ipoh and taught the make-up artists how to do the wayang make-up," says Shen.

He adds: "This is a very meaningful drama, I hope it brings wayang to more people. It may be a dying traditional art, but there are still many veterans who are very passionate about wayang."

Aside from being the first screen adaptation of Goh's play, the show also marks a first for actress Fann Wong.

The 49-year-old may be one of Singapore's brightest stars but Titoudao is her first English-language drama series.

She plays Ah Chiam's mother, a supporting character in one episode.

Fann says: "I don't think being in an English series is all that different, but we did discuss the script and tried to make the language easier and more colloquial, like what would have been used in the 1940s."

It also reunites her with Koe after 12 years. They worked together on the 2008 comedy movie Ah Long Pte Ltd when Koe was just a teenage actress.

Fann says: "Her looks haven't changed much, she's always been such a pretty girl and now she's a great actress who takes her work seriously."

Titoudao: Inspired By The True Story Of A Wayang Star is available for free on meWATCH (formerly known as Toggle) and also airs Tuesdays at 9.30pm on Channel 5.

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