Tuesday, December 30, 2008

She's behind you!!

We had booked tickets online for local theatre group, W!ld Rice's, Christmas panto production of Snow White a few weeks before we left Cambodia. Arriving on the evening of the last day of M's school term in Phnom Penh we just managed to make the second to last show, the next day, at the Drama Centre Theatre in the National Library, and we were all so glad we did. Traditionally pantomime, a British tradition, is a raucous comedy involving varying amounts of slap stick, song and dance, cross dressing (the female antagonist is usually played by a guy), a fairy tale or two, veiled (it is a family show) innuendo, audience participation (usually involving small intense voices yelling, in a not so small way, .....'SHES BEEEEHIIINNND YOOOUUU!!....') and in-jokes.

Internationally Singapore is known for its 'strict' rules around the behaviour and conduct of its occupants. You can be fined if you are caught spitting, jaywalking (although on any given day in downtown Orchard Road you may be forgiven for thinking this rule is merely a rumour), littering, eating on the MRT, bringing durians (a truely memorably odourous fruit) on any public transport or into many hotels, leaving water pooled in gutters, washing poles, plant saucers etc ('If they breed you will bleed'), forgetting to flush the loo and peeing in elevators (hmmm, if you actually need a rule to prevent this....).
It is no secret and completely by design that there are rules so strict around public assembly, the freedom of speech and protesting they make these human rights prohibitive. Many forms of the media are still heavily censored and favour the government. The Peoples Action Party, the government of Singapore since 1959, has been known to use Singapores defamation laws to bankrupt those who dare criticize them. Those seen as a threat have been held without trial, in some cases, for years. In 2000 the government of Singapore reluctantly designated an area known as the 'speakers corner' in Hong Lim Park. The Straits Times reported that Wong Kan Seng, Home Affairs Minister, told the Opposition at the time “Actually we don't think it's a good idea but if that's what is wanted and if we can manage the risk, we will provide for it. We'll let you try it out.” The project was intended to give the impression that Singaporeans are not devoid of their democratic rights, as is often asserted by other 'democratic' nations of the world. Anyone wanting to use the spot had to register with the police (since September this year you can do this online on the National Parks website), show their ID and provide their own soap box. They should not touch on issues such race and religion or anything that can be deemed to promote violence or could be considered libelous or slanderous to any government ministers and content should be kept clean.
Where am I going with this you may well ask?
Right back to the Enchanted Kingdom of Snow White where for two and a half hours each night from the 26th of November till the 20th of December and twice on Saturday and Sunday all bets were off. The audience gleefully tittered, giggled and down right roared as line after clever line poked fun at Singapores quirks and foibles and it’s very own English dialect, Singlish. It soon became obvious that the Queen, with serious control issues and a penchant for calling in a lawyer, was intended to resemble Singapore’s esteemed leader disguised in colourful creations of taffeta and lace and an enviable singing voice. The 'speakers corner' was the least human populated area of the enchanted kingdom where Snow White went to escape the clutches of her selfish step mother and feed the cute wild animals of the kingdom (the not so cute ones live in the ‘Outer Limits’ with the dirt, rubbish and the 7 ugly ‘dwarves’ disfigured by the single mandatory enhancement surgery every citizen received at 18). The Queen who always won the heavily rigged annual election...opps I mean beauty contest.... and maintained her status of the ‘fairest in all the land’ by using government taxes to pay herself a million dollar salary, which she then used for further enhancement surgery, soon became aware that she had a rival in the beauty stakes. Someone so perfect she didn’t need the mandatory enhancement surgery. She forced the government doctor to agree to disfigure the physically perfect Snow White but he chickened out and instead helped Snow White escape to the Outer Limits where she discovered things weren’t quite so grimy and ugly as she and all the other citizens of the Enchanted Kingdom, had been led to believe. There was of course a charming prince, a mouthy and painfully (for some) honest mirror and a very Singaporean nanny. The animals of the Singapore zoo even made an appearance in what was such an entertaining production we will most certainly be looking out for more of W!ld Rices offerings this coming year(which include a version of one of my favourite plays 'The importance of being Earnest' by an all male cast) and will definately be in the audience of next years panto.

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