Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey by The Little Company

Millicent Wong, Zachary Ibrahim and Sean Lai in Hanuman - The Superhero Monkey Sean Lai, Millicent Wong, Jo Tan, Zachary Ibrahim and Fazli bin Ahmad in Hanuman - The Superhero Monkey

This afternoon, we checked out The Little Company’s Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey, a multimedia musical based on the stories of Hanuman, the courageous and cheeky Hindu monkey-god. Created in collaboration with imitating the dog, a renowned U.K.-based theatre company, Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey is part-cartoon, part-film, part-musical, and part-physical theatre, and features music by Soumik Datta, a British Indian composer.

Although Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey draws inspiration from the events of the Ramayana—the abduction of Sita, the Battle of Lanka, etc.—it is not a faithful retelling of the epic. In this highly original production, Hanuman, who has a weakness for banana smoothies, is joined by a Power Ranger-esque band of monkey friends (Millie, Riley, Taylor, and Stacy) to save Sita and destroy Ravana, who is represented, oddly, by a Sauron-like eye, rather than by/with his characteristic ten heads.

The good: Zachary Ibrahim (“Hanuman”) carried the show. He had a commanding presence, so much more than his co-stars. The show’s visual elements, from conventions of comic book art (panels, silhouettes, burst lines) to evocative lighting design, were just enchanting. But it was the performance’s music, composed by Soumik Datta, virtuoso sarod player and disciple of Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta, that elevated Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey. Datta is best known as a master of the sarod, a fret-less, lute-like instrument, and here he combines Indian classical melodies with drum and bass percussion.

The not-so-good: Several scenes, including those in which Hanuman and his merry band confronted Kumbhakarna, the younger brother of Ravana, and Surasa, mother of the nagas (serpents), ran a bit too long and offered humor that fell rather flat. And Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey is not suitable for children with who have sensory disabilities. The play involves startling and loud sounds and flashing lights and total darkness.

Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey closes on April 30. Weekday performances (Tuesday through Friday) are at 10AM. Weekend performances are at 11AM and 2PM.

Many thanks to Singapore Repertory Theatre and The Little Company for tickets to today’s staging and post-performance photographs with the cast. My child thinks the photograph is “super-duper.”

Bunny Finds the Right Stuff by PLAYtime!

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On Sunday, we decided to take my parents to The Esplanade and show them a spot of local children’s theatre. Bunny Finds the Right Stuff is adapted from the children’s book Bunny Finds The Right Stuff, written by award-winning author Emily Lim and illustrated by Neal Sharp.

PLAYtime! is an interactive theatre series for children aged two to four, and this is the first performance we have attended that is a book adaptation. The plot of the play closely followed followed the plot of the book: Bunny, a floppy toy rabbit, is not happy with the way he is. He tries and tries to find stuffing to fill himself up, but he just cannot seem to get it right.

Bunny, despite being a “he,” was played by a “she”—Selma Alkaff, a 19-year-old actress who stole the show. Alkaff was supported by Andrew Marko (“Bear”), Bright Ong (“Kangaroo”), Lian Sutton (“Rex”) and they all did a fine job of keeping the littles entertained. I found the first few scenes rather draggy, and felt that the opening should have set up the conflict immediately. But The Preschooler loved the visual elements and lighting design and the opportunity to touch props and puppets. She participated in the performance’s interactive portions with delight and verve.

Bunny Finds the Right Stuff closes on March 13. Weekday performances are at 9:30AM and 11AM. Weekend performances are at 11AM and 4PM.

PLAYtime! is also staging “sensory-friendly” versions of this performance on March 7 at 9:30AM and 11AM. This is most excellent, and the first time I’ve seen such a thing in Singapore. (Singapore isn’t very kind to the disabled, I must say.) I personally know many families who would benefit from a performance suitable for children with special needs of all ages and abilities. It offers a friendly and supportive environment, with the following features: no total blackouts; no sudden loud sounds; free and easy access in and out of the theatre.

GIVEAWAY: Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey [CLOSED]

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To celebrate the Year of the Monkey, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Little Company presents Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey, a new multimedia musical based on the stories of Hanuman, the courageous and cheeky Hindu monkey-god. And guess what? I have a Family Package (four tickets) to give away for the Saturday, April 2, 2pm showing!

Created in collaboration with imitating the dog, a renowned U.K.-based theatre company, Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey is part-cartoon, part-film, part-musical, and part-physical theatre, and features music by Soumik Datta, a British Indian composer and virtuoso sarod player. Hanuman: The Superhero Monkey is suitable for children ages five and above.

To win this set of tickets, leave ONE comment below. (Entries without an email address will be disqualified. Multiple entires will be disqualified.)

This giveaway is open to my readers in Singapore only and will close on March 9, 2016 at 12:00AM UTC/GMT +8 hours. Three winners will be chosen by random.org and be announced on March 11, 2015. Good luck!

UPDATE: And the winner is… Joyce (comment #4) who writes, “A good exposure for the kids to learn about heroes from diversified backgrounds from all over the world but all doing one big heroic act – doing good for the world. Please let us be the lucky winner!” SRT will be reaching out to you with further details!

Peter Brook’s Battlefield

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When Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata hit the stage and screen in the mid-1980s, it was taken to task for being appropriative and orientalist. (Google “peter brook’s the mahabharata and orientalist.” I’ll wait. ) When I was eleven- or twelve-years-old, I watched the screen adaptation which starred Mallika Sarabhai as Draupadi and Mamadou Dioumé as Bhima. Even then, I remember being both enthralled by this adaptation which used a Western dramatic paradigm and a multicultural cast, and angry and disappointed by its simplification and very selective evocation of the cultural and religious context of the Hindu epic.

Decades later, Brook is revisiting The Mahabharata. His new play, Battlefield, focuses on one section of the epic, dealing with the aftermath of a military conflict. Here, Singapore Repertory Theater, in co-production with Young Vic Theatre, Les Théâtres de la ville de Luxembourg, PARCO Co. Ltd/Tokyo, Grotowski Institute, Théâtre de Liège, C.I.R.T., and Attiki Cultural Society (tbc), premiered Battlefield on Tuesday at the beautifully-restored Capitol Theatre. What was staged last night was Parisian company Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord’s production, adapted and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne and starring Carole Karemera, Jared McNeill, Ery Nzaramba, and Sean O’Callaghan and musician Toshi Tsuchitori. (I was, for some reason, under the impression that this was a locally-directed, locally-cast production from the press materials I had received.)

Over time, I’ve become wary of criticism which insists on a single authentic version of anything but, before the performance, I told my theatre companion that I still had mixed feelings about its casting—Karemera, McNeill, and Nzaramba are Black, and O’Callaghan is white—given my history of engagement with Brook’s work. I still feel wronged that the actors frequently mispronounced names and places, and they should be embarrassed by this. An actor worth his/her mettle should be able to character names such as “Dhritarashtra” and “Duryodhana,” let alone “easy” words such as “Ganga” and “Karna.” And Battlefield, like The Mahabharata, only displays the bare bones of the primary storyline without the layers of symbolism and subtext interwoven with subtlety and sophistication found in the text’s one hundred thousand stanzas.

However, this was, overall, a moving and satisfying theatre experience, especially in light of the day’s news. Battlefield alleges that the impact of war is eternal and that this unchangeable must be confronted. It asks the audience to face the horrors they have experienced—and perpetrated—and posits profound questions about death. Rwandan actor and activist Karemera shone in two memorable scenes—as Kunti and Ganga, both anguished by the deaths of their sons, Karna and Bhishma respectively. American McNeill sparkled less; his Yudhishthira was rather wooden. In set simplicity, costuming, music, and in acting, Battlefield was striking and minimalist, and Tsuchitori on djembe, is in full view. Although he did not participate in the action other than in accompaniment, he is a constant part of the unfolding events on stage, watching intently.

Battlefield runs until Saturday, Novembe21 and tickers are available via SISTIC (SG$48.00 to SG$108.00; SG$15.00 for SRT Youth). The production will then tour London, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Amiens, Rome, Modena, Florence, Washington D.C. and New York City. Take note, U.S.-based friends!

Octoburst! 2015

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In 2014, I wrote, “Octoburst! impressed me through and through and I wish we had made time for more performances, both paid and [free], and a workshop or two. I won’t make the same mistake in 2015!” So, earlier this year, when tickets went on sale for this year’s festival, I grabbed a bunch.

On Sunday, my family and I attended two ticketed performances and one free performance as part of Octoburst! 2015: A Children’s Festival, to celebrate Children’s Day. We saw:

  • “Casa” by La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (ticketed). I rarely purchase tickets to overseas shows staged in Singapore and prefer to spend my money on locally- or regionally-produced programming in order to support Singapore’s arts’ ecosystems. But the local producer of La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi’s works at The Esplanade personally urged me to watch, so I did! La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi was founded in Italy in 1976, and has been at the forefront of innovative and imaginative children’s theatre since. “Casa,” a play about a child and adult who build a house and home together, had a strong story structure, a minimalist set, and profound meaning. Actors Andrea Buzzetti and Carlotta Zini performed with great emotional and physical exactness, and exceptional beauty. And the play session at the close of the play was utterly delightful. “Casa” was truly world class children’s theatre, and we’re glad we attended.
  • “The Mouse Deer and The Alligator” by Ethnic Shadows (free). Through the traditional art form of Wayang Kulit Kelantan, Indonesian shadow puppetry, Ethnic Shadows shared the story of how the cunning mouse deer tricked the alligators in order to cross the river. Formed in 2012, Ethnic Shadows was founded by two drum and percussion enthusiasts/Dikir Barat activists. Ethnic Shadows has very little social media presence, but all their instructors have worked closely with the Malay Heritage Centre and have conducted Wayang Kulit and Dikir Barat workshops and performances.
  • “Dance Appreciation Series: Introduction to Swan Lake” by Singapore Dance Theatre (ticketed). “Introduction to Swan Lake” featured excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The excerpts were the perfect length for even the youngest audience members, even if Janek Schergen, Singapore Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, was a bit long winded with his explanations. And for SG$13.00 per ticket, we had the opportunity to sit in the third row (stall) of Esplanade’s glorious concert hall. From this vantage point, my child was dazzled by the grace and athleticism on display. However, at this distance, I was also able to see the unevenness of and the lack of precision in many of the company dancers, which was rather disappointing.

We also spent the afternoon wandering the Esplanade grounds, enjoying the various craft activities and play areas. Of note was the “Pipe-ful Play Garden” in the Courtyard Green, which invited participants to construct an ever-growing pipe-maze for all to play with.

Serenading Pangolins by The ART FISSION Company

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The Preschooler has outgrown PLAYtime! and The Little Company’s productions (and we didn’t care much at all for iTheatre), and I am always on the lookout for high-quality, professional, age-appropriate performing arts for her to view. So, to beat the haze (*cough cough*), earlier this afternoon we saw Serenading Pangolins: An ARTS FISSION’s Young People Environmental Dance-Theatre Production at Drama Centre Black Box.

The Young People Environmental Dance-Theatre Production is staged annually by The ARTS FISSION Company, and tackles environmental issues through contemporary dance. The hallmark of these production is the inclusion of child performers alongside company dancers. These young performers are students of the arts granary, a dance, theatre, and art enrichment program for children ages three to fourteen that is facilitated by The ARTS FISSION Company’s resident artists.

Serenading Pangolins tells of the plight of of the pangolin, an anteater species threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat and the illegal poaching of its scales. The Preschooler was enchanted by the young performers and her eyes sparkled when the child dancers performed, and was utterly thrilled when she and other audience members were invited on stage to participate. She also appreciated the company dancers’ rather acrobatic style of contemporary dance. Of the professional performers, dancer Yarra Ileto, a graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts and who played a mother pangolin whose young is snatched from her, had an incredible presence and was the most skilled dancer by far.

The performance also served as an excellent introduction to thinking about the costs of urbanization (planet, people, etc.), and allowed us to make connections between what she saw on stage and what she is experiencing every day—the haze. I look forward to seeing next year’s Young People Environmental Dance-Theatre Production!

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