Theatre review: Dim Sum Dollies' latest offering is a frothy and fun lesson in Singapore's history

The Dollies turned in a rousing, rollicking revue, packed with easy laughs and a dollop of measured introspection. -- PHOTO: DREAM ACADEMY
The Dollies turned in a rousing, rollicking revue, packed with easy laughs and a dollop of measured introspection. -- PHOTO: DREAM ACADEMY

SINGAPORE - If the Dim Sum Dollies were to be rated by this newspaper for the revival of their History Of Singapore Part 1, they would get five stars and a crescent for how zealously and cheerfully the show wore patriotism on its sleeve for two hours.

But the beloved cabaret trio of Selena Tan, Pam Oei and Denise Tan might baulk at mention of the R word, given how authorities slapped their Part 2 show, staged last December, with a "Advisory 16: some mature content" rating.

This version of Part 1, unlike the seafaring Sang Nila Utama - hilariously played in an opening number by the Dollies' trusty sidekick and veteran comedian Hossan Leong - did not steer into such choppy waters. It was a feel-good, rah-rah romp through local history from ancient times to 1965 that, for the most part, sailed comfortably through familiar territory already navigated by the 2007 staging.

From the gripes of long-suffering samsui women to the faux austerity of missionary Catholic nuns, the Dollies delivered their standard fare with style, sass and a whole lot of slapstick, backed by the peppy, energetic routines of their Loh Mai Guy dancers.

The highlight of the show was definitely the fresh satire that writer Selena Tan mined from recent events and slipped cleverly into the script, to approving roars of laughter from the audience, which included Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh.

Examples include how Selena Tan's skipper, in a pirate-themed skit, assured her men, "You are free to do or say what you want" despite the "tense Amos-phere" of late, as well as jibes at issues like no public drinking after hours and the taxi crunch. Rickshaws went on call and changed shifts, much to the ire of Denise Tan's British aristocrat: "It used to be uber-easy to grab a ride. What we need is something to move the masses rapidly without breaking down!".

Another howler was a remix of the national carrier's long-running Singapore Girl jingle for a beauty pageant in which the sublime Leong, in drag as Miss Singapore, riffed on Singapore's separation anxieties from Malaya.

More poignant, especially in light of recent events, was the Luckily segment, dedicated to an unnamed charismatic strongman political leader.

Moments like these show how the Dollies have grown to occupy a niche as adroit performers who take political potshots, but manage to sidestep the potholes of running afoul of the powers-that-be.

Deserving of kudos are Leong, who goes through a whirlwind of wardrobe changes and at least 10 roles in the course of the show, as well as Denise Tan, who brings a frothy, irrepressible cheekiness to her role as the third Dolly (she replaced veteran actress Emma Yong, who died in 2012 of stomach cancer).

However, when the jokes wore thin (see: the "premature ejaculation" of the kamikaze pilots) and the energy seemed to sag, I found myself longing for the writing of Part 2, which felt more biting, pointed and cognisant of a better educated and politically informed audience.

All in all, the Dollies turned in a rousing, rollicking revue, packed with easy laughs and a dollop of measured introspection - fitting in the year of the country's jubilee - that reminds us why they are one of Singapore's comic imperial treasures.

Book It

Dim Sum Dollies' The History of Singapore - Part 1

Where: Esplanade Theatre

When: Till June 21. Tuesday to Sunday, 8pm; Saturday and Sunday, 3pm.

Admission: Tickets at $48, $68, $88, $128 and $148 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

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