Rookie actor Benjamin Chow among newcomers recognised at Life Theatre Awards

Both veteran and emergent actors receive recognition for their efforts at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards

Newcomers to the theatre scene were recognised at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards on Monday, even as seasoned actors and theatre companies won accolades at the 16th edition of the awards.

The event, with the telco as title sponsor, was organised in collaboration with the Esplanade.

It was held at its recital studio on Monday with Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth as guest of honour.

Actor Benjamin Chow, 26, a first- time nominee, won Best Supporting Actor in his professional debut as the left-wing political leader Lim Chin Siong in The LKY Musical.

Chow, who studied acting at the Lasalle College of the Arts and performed in children's musicals before being cast in his first major production, said he was "deeply humbled by the award and recognition".

  • Award winners

  • Production of the Year: Hotel (Wild Rice)

    Production of the Year (Readers' Choice): The LKY Musical (Metropolitan Productions, Singapore Repertory Theatre)

    Best Production for the Young: The Wee Question Mark And The Adventurer - A Children's Musical (The Theatre Practice)

    Best Director: Ivan Heng and Glen Goei for Hotel

    Best Original Script: Alfian Sa'at and Marcia Vanderstraaten for Hotel

    Best Actor: Adrian Pang in The LKY Musical

    Best Actress: Siti Khalijah Zainal in Off Centre (Oliver Chong, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

    Best Ensemble: Hotel

    Best Supporting Actor: Benjamin Chow in The LKY Musical

    Best Supporting Actress: Serene Chen in Public Enemy (Wild Rice)

    Best Set Design: Wong Chee Wai for Legends Of The Southern Arch (The Theatre Practice)

    Best Lighting Design: Dorothy Png for Legends Of The Southern Arch

    Best Sound Design: Bani Haykal for untitled women (The Necessary Stage)

    Best Costume Design: Reckless Ericka for The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers (Ong Keng Sen, Chris Lee, Reckless Ericka, Kaffe Matthews, Brian Gothong Tan, Francis Ng; Singapore International Festival of Arts; Singapour en France - le Festival)

    Best Multimedia Design: Brian Gothong Tan for The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers

"But I can't repeat this enough - it's a bigger moment of recognition for Lim Chin Siong," he said of the former political detainee who spent six years behind bars, from 1963 to 1969.

Chow acted opposite veteran thespian Adrian Pang, who played the titular role of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Pang, 50, who received the Best Actor award for his portrayal of the late Mr Lee, was less enthusiastic about his win than the performance of his fellow nominees.

He expressed surprise when he received the trophy from Hollywood- based Singapore actress Lydia Look and praised the other nominees in the category in his thank- you speech.

He told The Straits Times after the ceremony that he was, in fact, rooting for newcomer Thomas Pang.

The 25-year-old actor played his deaf son in Tribes, a production by theatre company Pangdemonium, which Pang co-founded with his wife, Tracie.

He said: "Having worked with Thomas last year, I felt he did an incredible job and I had money, $100, on him."

Similarly, seasoned actress Siti Khalijah Zainal did not expect to win the Best Actress prize for her portrayal of Saloma, a lowerincome, former vocational student battling schizophrenia in the 1993 play Off Centre by Singapore playwright Haresh Sharma.

Siti, 30, who was close to tears when she received the trophy from theatre practitioner Peter Sau, said she was moved because "Saloma has a special place in my heart".

"It is the toughest character I have had to play, mentally, emotionally, but I also felt for her so much and I wanted to be a voice for her, to play her with truth and sensitivity."

Spirited celebration of Jubilee theatre

Serene Chen picks up Best Supporting Actress for her role in Wild Rice’s Public Enemy.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The seminal play about mental illness in Singapore was revived as part of the Esplanade's The Studios: fifty series, which shone the spotlight on 50 iconic Singaporean English-language plays to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

Also reflecting the nation's introspective mood last year was the staging of Hotel, a five-hour, two-part epic by Wild Rice, which spans a century of Singapore's history.

The play received seven nominations and bagged four wins for Best Ensemble, Best Original Script, Best Director and the highest accolade at the awards, Production of the Year.

The Straits Times theatre reviewer Corrie Tan, who was among the four-member judging panel for the awards, said: "The judges came to one of their speediest conclusions this year as to which production should take the top spot.

"Hotel was a production both visionary and intimate, brought to vivid life by two incisive writers, two deft directors and an incredibly hard-working cast, not a single weak link among them."

Wild Rice founder and Hotel's co-director Ivan Heng, 52, in his thank-you speech for Best Director, an honour shared with co-director Glen Goei, said: "I think all theatre artists actually believe in a perfect future, which is why we all work so hard, and I feel so happy and proud to be here, to be a part of that fraternity."

The reference to a perfect future was raised several times at the spirited awards ceremony, which was themed Future Perfect.

Actress Neo Swee Lin, who was part of the winning Hotel ensemble, said in her thank-you speech that "in a perfect future, I would like to see more opposition in Parliament".

She ended her speech with a touch of humour by making reference to the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election, which opposition politician Chee Soon Juan is contesting in.

The awards host, actresscomedienne Pam Oei, dressed according to theme - as a ship sailing away from a foggy present to a clear-eyed future.

Her all-white ensemble, which drew loud applause and cheers when she stepped on stage, included a bouffant wig of tight curls topped by a styrofoam model of a ship with sails.

Chow, speaking at the after- party, praised Oei for her style and said: "For next year, Pam in different outfits, that would be great."

Additional reporting by Akshita Nanda

Future Perfect outfits

(From left) Dwayne Lau, Glen Goei, Ivan Heng, Siti Khalijah Zainal and Lydia Look.ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM

Count on members of the theatre community to show up for the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2016 decked out in quirky outfits.

They had their own interpretations of the theme of the awards, Future Perfect.

Who: Actor Dwayne Lau, 34

He says: "I actually Googled the theme and found images of Back To The Future. Many years ago, this outfit was the perfect future for actor Michael J. Fox. So I borrowed a friend's skateboard and bought the shoes for $29. Everything else is my own."

Who: Directors Glen Goei, 53, and Ivan Heng, 52, joint winners of the Best Director award for Hotel (Wild Rice)

Goei says: "I bought this jacket in February in Palm Springs, Los Angeles. The designer is called Mr Turk. It's a difficult theme, so I thought I'd pair it with something futuristic and metallic." Heng says: "This jacket is created from antique batik. It's a traditional Hindu design from the temples in Java. I bought the batik and had it tailored. It's about tradition and modernity, the old and the new."

Who: Actress Siti Khalijah Zainal, 30, winner of the Best Actress award for Off Centre (Oliver Chong, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

She says: "I went with a nautical theme as I had no idea what to wear. I got this navy blue dress when I went to New York, from a brand called Tatyana. It does modern but pin-up girl kind of dresses. And my bag is so big, because I just came from rehearsal lah."

Who: Lydia Look, 42, a Singapore actress who is based in Hollywood

She says: "This is a piece from designer Issey Miyake. I figured that in the future, we'd have day and night looks melding into one. This outfit can be a cocoon for sleeping, it can be night wear, it's Miyake future perfect. And the earrings are generic Ah Lian earrings from Parkway Parade."

Lee Jian Xuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Class act all round Award winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe