[Theatre Review] Imaginative Retelling of the Zodiac Race

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n.b. I would like to inform my readers that I am currently a project-based intern with Checkpoint Theatre for their upcoming production, The Last Bull: A Life in Flamenco. However, I strongly believe that this does not affect the integrity of my critique. Views expressed are my own.

Ready! Set! Zo!

I Theatre Creative Edge

28 May 2016, 10am

The Substation

25–29 May 2016

It is unavoidable. When Chinese New Year comes around, many adults will develop a voracious reading habit. They will consume every single word on information panels placed outside shopping malls, which inform them whether the coming year will be kind to those who are born in a particular year of a particular animal.

If only they bothered to read the folk tale of how the zodiac cycle came to be to their children which, judging from Creative Edge’s imaginative re-telling, has the potential to be entertaining.

Playwright and lyricist Dwayne Lau expands on the folk tale by giving the animals distinct personalities, and showed why the animals finish the race in the order that they did. His script is structured based on the snake acting as a commentator of the race. The plot is not only engaging, but the adults will be entertained by his clever puns, and references to white rabbit sweets, and how the fortune cat came to be.

However, in the course of giving life to his characters, he inadvertently faces problems when it comes to delivering the right message. Rat is scheming, manipulative, and devilishly intelligent—which is why she came in first. Yet, she is not punished and gets to retain her position. In order to circumvent the problem of sending the wrong message to children, Lau has a line saying that the positions do not matter as they each animal has a year to itself, and the years go in cycles. But the fact that Rat still came in first in a race, and that still says something. Additionally, she may have apologised towards the end of the show, but it appears that it was out of fear of Tiger rather than earnestly admitting her mistake.

In terms of the performance, director Alecia Kim Chua is keen to showcase the main aspects that the young actors of the Creative Edge programme go through. The physical work of embodying the various animals, mask work, and shadow puppetry expose children to various modes of story-telling, and they complement each other in the context of the show.

Unfortunately, most of the actors are not consistent in the way they embody the animals as the identity of some of the animals are not clear when they first appear on stage.  Also, they sometimes forget that the face of their characters is the mask that they put on their heads, and not their actual faces. There are several occasions when they portray their characters through their own facial expressions rather than moving the mask in such a way that brings the character to life. The only exception is Abby Lai as the Rat.

Despite the raw performances, Ready! Set! Zo! is an entertaining piece of children’s theatre. With some minor tweaks and more emphasis on physical theatre, it has the potential to be part of I Theatre’s repertoire which can be restaged, especially in the midst of Chinese New Year celebrations.

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