Theatre Review: Michael Chiang’s “ARMY DAZE”

Directed by Beatrice Chia-Richmond

Songs by Don Richmond

Drama Centre

21st August 2012 (Tuesday) 8pm

From Boys to Men

The Army Daze which I could remember was the 1996 movie version. Most of the details had been forgotten, except a ‘CC’ (woman-liked behaviour) soldier whose appearance had never failed to tickle me.

Not only the movie had hit the record as the highest box-office in our local English-language film history, the full-length play which written by Michael Chiang based on his book, first published in 1985, had been one of the best selling plays since its debut in 1987.

In celebrating of its 25th Birthday, director Beatrice Chia-Richmond and Music Composer/Lyricist Don Richmond, had decided to stage it again, bringing with them a strong production team of many familiar names from our theatre field, introducing young bloods into the cast, collaborating with some of the most well-known comedians, and injecting new composed songs in the play!

Talking about National Service (NS), every man has his own story to tell, and every story is special to him which he will never forget this chapter in his life.

This is when a boy has become man, after his two and the half years of service for his country.

This is when a boy is forced to leave his comfort zone, and to live and train with other boys, who he hardly knows.

The story of Army Daze has no exception on how the five boys survived through their first three months at Pulau Tekong during BMT (basic military training), how their family members and loved ones responded during their absence and how their friendships blossomed along the way.

These five boys, each with interesting personality who we can easily identify with, are working class mama’s boy Malcolm (Dwayne Tan), ‘every flat has one’ Ah Beng (Joshua Lim), ‘the woman traps in a man’s body ’ Kenny (Shane Mardjuki), ‘Chao Keng’ (means finding excuse to escape duty in Hokkien) Johari (Adi Jamaluddin) and hyper-drama-drama Krishna (Ebi Shankara).

Like the boys, who are strangers to one another at first, I find that the first half of the play was lacking some kind of chemistry despite of the enthusiasm from the cast that they were trying to connect with one another. It was delightful to see Dennis Chew (famous known as Aunt Lucy who I adore) acted as Malcolm’s mum but a little let-down to feel that the bonding between the mother and son was missing somehow, there was some awkward moment when Dennis seemed to have forgotten his lines though he was very steady to pull the scene through nevertheless.

The ‘bonding’ from the other family members with the other boys was not strong too, except for Krishna and his girlfriend, Lathi (Norleena Salim) was the best among all, I was convinced by Norleena’s influential charisma.

The tune of the opening song was lively but the lyrics were not clearly heard, the costume was appealing with many colours but the dance did not seem to be matching well with them. Things didn’t seem quite organise in the few opening scenes to me, especially when many characters were put on stage together.

But thanks to more experienced CPL-in-charge, Hokkien-speaking Ong Lai (Chua Enlai) and the only female sergeant (Siti Khalijah) in control, that able to pull the whole platoon of number 4, ‘Hotel’ together, bringing us the audience with gags. 2ndLT Heng (Andrew Lua), though his comical talent was not as powerful yet, maybe due to the limitation of his role, had given a satisfying performance.

What I liked most about Act 1 were all the scenes whenever Siti appeared, she is really our theatre’s darling with her natural humour. Whenever she was on stage, the mass would cheer for her and laughed even she started to utter a word. And I always enjoy her singing, her ‘I Believe I Can fly’ had made me wanted to fly with her too.

It was a smart move in having Siti in singing a solo piece in the second half of the play (after the intermission), in her role as Lathi’s maid lamenting of her departure from her homeland to this strange land – Singapore (just like the boys who need to serve their NS) accompanied by the ensemble, all in dressed in pink in their domestic uniforms; awakening by their funky dance moves with the cheerful melody, while there were bubbles all around them. So captivating to look at!

Army Daze had then taken its flight from there on, the bonding of the boys and their chemistry with one another, even outside their midst, had regained in a split second!

The story was able to flow more smoothly though most of it was much more expected as we had heard too many similar stories or watched movie about NS already, which had reduced much of our surprises in hearing something more refreshing or new.

But the play continued to entertain us from the scene when Norleena, the ‘queen of drama’ pretentious behaviours first heard the bad news of her boyfriend, Krishna’s misfortune, while she also tried her attempt to seduce 2ndLT Heng who was responsible to inform her; to the scene when the five boys’ sang the song of ‘mainland boys don’t have to serve NS’, was indeed impressive with funny lines.

Well, it is very encouraging to see many new faces taking the main leads in our local theatre scene, they may one day in becoming the next Ivan Heng, Hossan Leong, Sebastian Tan, Kumar, Robin Goh, etc. Who knows?

While in Army Daze, the boys had becoming men.

The young theatre practitioners will become our theatre veterans one day if they preserver!

Soldier on, Boys!

P.S:Army Daze is still marching at Drama Centre till 26 August, details here. ‘Chop’ (book) your ticket, quick quick! (^-^)V

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