Editor's Rating: 
Average: 3.5 (1 vote)

This promising French thriller by director Dominik Moll (Intimacy) doesn’t quite deliver, but it has enough sense of foreboding evil that justifies us watching it, especially for the creepy and compelling performance by the always fantastic Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool). This mind-twisting thriller, somewhat inspired by David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, is classy and assured, but some of its plot convolutions, and an unsatisfying ending, bog it down. That said, its first hour is pure gold.

Opening Date: 
Thu, 2006-08-31
Running Time: 
Terry Ong
Beatrice Chia-Richmond needs no introduction. This lanky and talented stage actress-director has graced many local magazines, and is one of the most recognizable faces in local theater. Here, she talks to us about some of her favorite things—among them, Prada, massages, kindness and traveling to Kenya.

What is your current state of mind?
My mind is at present trying to de-adrenalize and calm down after months of being in a fevered frenzied state while working on Cabaret. Most times it behaves like a schizophrenic gear stick, moving from fifth gear to first gear with absolutely no warning.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be many things: A doctor, Madonna, Fonzie from Happy Days, a photo-journalist, part of Bananarama, John Taylor’s girlfriend, editor of Vogue, Martin Scorsese and the Goddess of Mercy.

What is your biggest achievement?
Being able to finish a golf game without swearing!

What inspires you?
Many things: Kindness. Courage. People who have a great attitude to life. Watching Tiger Woods play. Great architecture in Rome, the Duomo in Milan, Ang Lee films, Martin Scorsese films, Mozart, Kanye West, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Damien Hirst.

Do you have a cause or do you support one?
I support WMD—Women Who Make a Difference. It is a group that works against acts of violence and abuse towards women and children.

Which living person do you admire most and would like to invite for dinner?
WAGS—the wives and girlfriends of footballers. I don’t admire them but I would really like to have them over for dinner and listen to their conversations. I’m sure it will be riveting!

What are you reading?
The Lonely Planet’s Guide to Kenya. I’m going there next month. British Vogue—my toilet reading, and Harry Potter—just got to Order of the Phoenix.

How do you spend your Sunday mornings?
Trying to wake up to accompany my husband Mark Richmond onto the golf course. I usually pray for a thunderstorm.

What is your idea of hell?
Stuck on a low-budget, badly-written, poorly-cast and appallingly-directed TV drama/sitcom on location shooting. Been there a few times and I never want to go back. I would rather clean toilet bowls in Kowloon.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Making my husband skip work to come home and play with me. Massages. Prada.

How do you recharge?
Yoga. Traveling to far, far away places, away from everyone. Reading.

Where would you like to live?
New York and Rome.

What is your favorite item of clothing?
A pink T-shirt my husband bought me. It says “C is for Cutie!” (Laughs)

What accessory sets you apart?
None. I don’t wear accessories except for my wedding ring which is fabulous.

What about you scares others?
Nothing. I don’t scare no one.

If you had to play a character in a movie, which movie and which character?
Catwoman (Batman), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Fonzie (Happy Days).

What did you believe at 18 that you still believe now?
That life is too short and that you should live each day as if it were your last.


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Editor's Rating: 
Average: 2.5 (1 vote)

Never mind all the critical acclaim that have been bestowed upon this commendable documentary drama about a bunch of men who play quadriplegic rugby. There’s nothing in Murderball, directed by Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro (a journalist who first wrote about the sport in Maxim magazine) that you’ve never seen before.

Opening Date: 
Thu, 2006-07-13
Running Time: 
Terry Ong
Four new homegrown fashion labels to rock your world.


For a collection that draws inspiration from David Bowie’s character in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, Aussie rocker Nick Cave’s performance from Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire, and actor Michael Pare’s Tom Cody character in Streets of Fire, Stray has certainly got it made. The main silhouette of the collection is a figure accentuated by elements of red and tailored cuts (see picture). One signature design in the collection is sharp pointy lines on the back of shirts and jackets—an evocation of characters that are “unconventional and quiet,” says its designer and founder Arthur Chua. “The designs are made for conflicted heroes … individuals who are gentlemanly, yet rebellious in every sense.”

Consisting of well conceptualized ready to wear pieces that include shirts, tops, elaborate jackets, vests and pants, the collection, which recently debuted at the Wardrobe show at Zouk, is made for men in the know.

The multitalented Chua is an art director by day, and has dabbled in many art exhibitions, commercials and film. His fashion collection is an extension of his work philosophy. Chua further explains: “Fashion is just an extension of what I do as Stray, also the name of my creative agency. The basic idea of Stray is my belief in venturing (hence straying) into all areas of creativity that interest me, including architecture, product design, installation, music, film, philosophy, science etc. Thus fashion is just one aspect of it all.”

But for now, it seems that Stray, the fashion collection, is here to stay. Some of the best and outstanding pieces include jackets with hand pressed metal studs, cropped pinstripe bolero jackets, and long hooded coats. Prices range from $599 to $899 for these conceptual pieces, most of them one-offs. “I don’t confine my target customers to any particular age group as much as I don’t believe in categorizing anyone. As long as that person appreciates my clothes, it’s a good enough reason to wear them,” adds Chua.

Stray is available from end July at White Room, 37 Haji Lane, 6297-1280. Or email [email protected] for more info.


Try not to kill yourselves over these babies. A much sought after collection between Stray’s Arthur Chua, FruFru & Tigerlily’s Ginette Chittick (who also plays in the rock band Astreal) and local music producer Muon a.k.a. Nick Chan, the fashion label Murder is here to rock with its unconventional approach to fashion. Murder’s main collection is not just the clothes, but an entire package that comes with a CD featuring music conjured by Muon. “The music is inspired by the imagery of the clothes, much like a soundtrack that completes a movie,” says Chittick.

The clothes, consisting of pieces for both men and women, also premiered at the Wardrobe show. One of its key menswear pieces is the black jeans that come with gold embroidered “Flying V and Explorer” guitar motifs, a la cult British fashion label Maharishi. For the girls, it’s the black dresses that come replete with electric red lightning motifs. This is essential fashion wear for wannabe rockers.

Asked how the idea for Murder came about, Chittick explains: “It just hit me in bed one morning when I was thinking about the relationship between music and imagery, and how both elements are so entwined and are such integral parts of each other. And as a fashion designer and musician, I wanted a label that would come with its own soundtrack, sort of like how a movie is incomplete without a proper soundtrack. Our clothes are part of that missing equation.”

Priced at $180-300, the collection, which plays on darker colors such as black, red and grey; and more angular cuts, is commendable for its eccentricity. “Aesthetically, it’s just pleasing and nothing sunshiny about it,” adds Chittick. “To fully understand the mood, one would have to wear and hear it.”

Murder is available from end July at White Room, 37 Haji Lane, 6297-1280. Or email [email protected] for more info.

Black Parasol

More darkness looms out from relatively unheard of fashion label Black Parasol. Although founders Ha Xiaoyun, Li Wenhui, Rhiannon Xiao and Shen Zhaoru have been selling their clothes annually at the Singapore Street Festival, only in January this year did the foursome launch the website www.blackparasol.com to retail their clothes online.

This self professed “alternative” fashion label mixes influences from gothic Lolita and punk fashions into individualized garments and accessories that are handmade by the four designers. “Ever since we launched the website, we’ve even had orders from the US,” says Ha. Some of the most outstanding pieces in the collection include the Peppermint Rose Headdress (US$22), made from black cotton, and trimmings such as black vinyl, satin ribbons and black netting, and the Decorum Choker (US$20), made from pearls, lace and a pendant.

“Usually we will meet to brainstorm the designs together, draft them, and then stitch and put them together,” explains Ha. “We try not to go OTT with the designs as the local market can’t really accept it. Given that Singaporeans are not very experimental with their clothing and styles, and are still unfamiliar with the gothic Lolita subculture (which originated from Japan), the items that we design are toned down. Still, it must still be aesthetically pleasing to the layman and still acceptable by people who are familiar with Lolita culture.”

Black Parasol is available from www.blackparasol.com.

See You Tomorrow

See You Tomorrow is an antithesis of a brand, tagged as “a signifier of greater hope, a minimalist and flea mart clash,” or so it claims. More playful than minimalist, this quirky collection by Aiwei Foo, a Sarawak native, is a breath of fresh air among the staple of darker collections featured here. Although it has been around for almost a year, making its presence felt in numerous art and book fairs, namely in Tokyo, the collection is finally available locally at hip lifestyle store Asylum.

“The reception to my works is usually that it’s happy,” says Foo with a chuckle. “That’s because on a personal level, I’m optimistic about tomorrow, and I believe that there is still hope out there.” We are also hopeful about Foo’s colorful collection making a splash here. We especially like her Accidental Bags, made from recycled materials found at Salvation Army and flea markets, that are reminiscent of the popular Freitag bags from multilabel boutique Actually... And at $120, they are more affordable too.

“I saw these materials at the Salvation Army, and was just so fascinated with them, and decided to use them for sewing and see how they turned out.” Little did Foo know that they will eventually become very trendy, one-off ladies handbags that are as lovable as they are innovative. “I also like to play with small little pieces of fabric,” she adds. The result: Accessories and necklaces ($60-90) that also pose as works of art that wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalks.

See You Tomorrow is available from Asylum, 22 Ann Siang Rd., 6324-2289.


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The Omen: 666

Editor's Rating: 
Average: 0.5 (1 vote)
Liev Schreiber
Julia Stiles
Mia Farrow
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Directed By: 
John Moore

The latest remake of the classic 1976 horror film The Omen is totally unnecessary and unscary.

Opening Date: 
Tue, 2006-06-06
Running Time: 
Terry Ong

Paradise Now

Editor's Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)
Lubna Azabal
Hamza Abu-Aiaash
Kais Nashif
Directed By: 
Hany Abu-Assad

You’d want to watch Paradise Now simply because it is an extremely touching and humanistic film that centers on the plight of suicide bombers. Oh, and the fact that the Hany Abu-Assad directed film took home various awards at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, this year’s Golden Globes, and it was an Oscar nominee to boot. Indeed, the numerous accolades heaped on Paradise Now should not deter audiences from appreciating its intimate and sensitive qualities.

Opening Date: 
Thu, 2006-06-01
Running Time: 
Terry Ong
The Great Singapore Sale (GSS) is here. We’ve done all the legwork and scoured the best and most stylish buys in town just for you. By Terry Ong, research by Abigail Lim, Komathi Sellathurai and Winnie Leung
   Ride On: stylish basics can be had at Esprit, as selected apparel is up to 50 percent off.
    Bag It: Ladies will have no trouble finding a handbag to call their own at Furla, with selected models going at half the usual price.
  Shoe In: If you’ve always wanted to own a beautiful pair of heels from Nue, now’s the time. Selected models are going for half the price during the sale.
  Wrap Easy: This beautiful Kenzo scarf, along with other selected men’s and women’s wear from the fashion boutique, is 50 percent off.
  Shine On: Live it up when you put on these luxurious interchangeable jewelry rings from Charlotte Atelier. Most selections are up to 40 percent off, making them more affordable than ever.
  All Tied Up: Get a hold of some stylish men’s ties at Etro, which is selling them for up to 50 percent off their original prices.
  Animal Instinct: Shop till you drop at Fox, where selected trendy men’s and women’s wear is 50 percent off.
  Who’s the Boss?: This bold and striking black bag from Hugo Boss, among many other selections from the brand, is good to go at half the price.
  Look Sharp: Stock up on cool, made-to-measure business shirts from CYC The Custom Shop, as they are now going for $79 each, down from their original price of $109.
  Pretty in Pink: This funky pink blouse from Liz Claiborne is just $39.90, while other selections from the brand are up to 70 percent off their original price.
  Move with It: Get comfy at only $19.90 when you slip on this Pretty Fit sandal. Other footwear designs from the label are up to 70 percent off their original price.


Address Book:

Charlotte Atelier #02-10A Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Rd., 6733-7616.
CYC The Custom Shop 01-21 Republic Plaza II, 9 Raffles Place, 6538-0522.
Esprit 3/F, Isetan, Wisma Atria, 435 Orchard Rd., 6734-2396.
Etro #01-30 Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd., 6737-5108.
Fox #02-209/210/211 Marina Square, 6 Raffles Blvd., 6336-4842.
Furla #02-12 Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Rd., 6737-8560.
Hugo Boss #03-02/04 Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Rd., 6737-2552.
Kenzo #01-08/09 Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd., 6733-0925.
Liz Claiborne #02-07 Scotts Shopping Centre, 6 Scotts Rd., 6738-8830.
Nue #03-31/32 Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd., 6836-7677.
Pretty Fit #B1-40A Wisma Atria, 435 Orchard Rd., 6836-3580.


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The World’s Fastest Indian may be successful Australian director Roger Donaldson’s most personal film to date. That is, after you consider the illustrious director’s previous picks of eclectic flicks such as the Tom Cruise romance Cocktail (1988), sexy thrillers No Way Out (1987), sexier sci-fi thriller Species, and the political and critically acclaimed Thirteen Days. Donaldson, currently residing in Los Angeles, tells us why making a film about one of his personal heroes is so important to him.

After the slew of bigger budgeted Hollywood films such as The Recruit and Dante’s Peak, why The World’s Fastest Indian?
It’s one of my truest stories yet. In my 20s, I made a documentary about the life of Burt Munro, and it’s one that’s stuck with me all these years. His story is one that I can draw parallels to my life with—his obsessive nature and his love for both women and motorbikes. I mean, I love automobiles too, and my obsession with film is one that started a long time ago for me. The story also talks about the philosophies of life, and the prospects of growing old. It talks about all things that I value in life, basically.

It’s certainly one of your smaller and more personal films.
It’s good to make films with a wonderful sense of humor, and with a real personality. I mean, I like to make different types of movies—from sci-fis to epics. I’m even exploring the prospects of making one using a high definition video camera right now, and reading lots of scripts.

How do you choose your projects?
As I’ve said, I like different genres, and I choose projects that I can best challenge myself with. But I don’t have a personal favorite. It’s like asking me to choose one of my favorite children out of my eight. The different films that I’ve done have been memorable for various reasons. The most important thing is in the creative process of making the films, really. Of course, the end product is important too, but the experience making them is what I cherish most.

The film teams you up with Anthony Hopkins again after The Bounty. Were the rumors surrounding the tiff between you and Hopkins back then true?
(Laughs) Yes, they were true. The first time we worked together, it was extremely painful, but this time around, it’s a love fest! But you have to understand that the working conditions during The Bounty were rather demanding, especially since we shot the film in the tropics.

Are you surprised by all the positive reaction to The World’s Fastest Indian?
In a way, yeah. I didn’t set out to make a crowd-pleasing film. Even one of my daughters who saw the film enjoyed it, and said, “Daddy, that’s you on screen!” She’s talking about the similarities between me and Burt Munro, of course. I have had lots of people writing to me about the film, more than any other film that I’ve directed—from old friends who’ve come out of the woodwork to various people from different age groups. So yeah, it’s been quite surprising.


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Love Story

Editor's Rating: 
Average: 1.5 (1 vote)
Allen Lin Yi Lun
Ericia Lee
Evelyn Tan
Tracy Tan
Amanda Ling
Benjamin Heng
Directed By: 
Kelvin Tong

Kelvin Tong’s latest “art” film Love Story is convoluted and pretentious.

Opening Date: 
Thu, 2006-05-25
Terry Ong
Six artists on the edge of creativity

In our safe and predictable arts climate, where most art exhibitions and theatrical plays are staged based on commercial viability, it’s enlightening to see a bunch of young artists who are sticking to their guns and doing their own thing. These artists are uncompromising in their artistic vision, and some have achieved nationwide acclaim through their impressive bodies of work over the years. They are a new breed of artists who are providing the edge in the local arts scene today, and will hopefully continue to push boundaries with critical acclaim. I-S profiles some of our very best.

The Young Gun: Brian Gothong Tan

Boyish 26-year-old multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan first caught our attention in 2001 with his beautiful and stark lighting works in the play The Optic Trilogy, part of ACTION Theatre’s 42 Theatre Festival. Since then, he has gone on to create playful mesmerizing video and installation works that have graced the walls of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Sculpture Square, and been shown at the 9th Venice Architectural Biennale last year, to critical acclaim.

Tan has certainly come a long way from his early days creating low-budgeted videos that costs as little as $50, using cheap fluorescent tubes and found objects, and getting actors to work for free. “Today, I get much bigger funding, which means I can invest in better equipment and hire professional people to help me out,” he says. “But because I have been so used to working with so little funds, I am able to push the value of my funding to do more things and cut down on unnecessary costs. Besides, it’s really not about the money, but the ideas behind it. Even though the final product might look good and slick, if it doesn’t have a clear message, people will just walk away from it.”

Tan’s multi-faceted fantasy-like works, such as The Mysterious Book of Invisible Children exhibition at the Esplanade, Heavenly Cakes and Sentimental Flowers at SAM, and other video works like Psychoanalytical Neofeminist dwell into pop culture, juxtaposing images and sculptures of Astro Boy with experimental and edgy video imageries, featuring scenes that would not look out of place in a Final Fantasy video game or the movie Tron. “My work incorporates fashion elements as well as and borrows a lot from the MTV aesthetic, as opposed to more coolly intellectual and highbrow works in the local arts scene,” he explains. “I don’t shy away from fusing low and high culture together. I think it stems from the fact that I like a lot of things, like watching movies, drawing, photography etc., and I like to do a lot of things at once. So I merge these different disciplines quite naturally.”

Indeed, Tan’s works are some of the funkiest and freshest that we’ve seen, and his works are both accessible and cutting-edge too. A testament to his popularity: One of Tan’s Astro Boy sculptures from The Mysterious Book of Invisible Children was stolen a few days into the exhibition. ”Judging from public reaction, I think my works from that exhibition are the most acclaimed. It has something to do with the imagery I used, which was very youth-oriented. But I think the main appeal of my work was that it was accessible, that means when people on the street see it, they understand it or are able to engage with it on a certain level. Which I think is very important for art to function effectively.”

The Sound Man: George Chua

For a secondary school dropout, multidisciplinary artist George Chua has done well for himself. Not only has the 33-year-old established himself as one of Singapore’s most well-known sound and performance artists, he has also immersed himself in numerous theatrical projects, including TheatreWorks’ Balance (2004) and spell#7’s Beautiful Losers (2003). Chua even nabbed himself an honorable mention for special achievement in music for Balance at last year’s Life! Theatre Awards.

Not bad, considering Chua has only dabbled in the arts full-time since 1999. “Prior to that, I worked in the music industry for a while and DJ-ed in clubs, playing mostly indie rock tracks. But even as a kid, I was always into drawing and artistic things. I even studied Chinese painting for three years.”

Following his decision to go full-time, Chua joined his friend, multidisciplinary artist Zai Kuning, and his dance troupe, Metabolic Theatre Company, and was actively involved in dance and performance art for a good three years. But Chua’s numerous dance and theatrical contributions aside, it is his austere and absorbing sound art, which he has dabbled in since 2003, that sticks. So compelling are his moody sound works, Chua has even garnered a sizeable underground following. Among some of his most innovative works are I Have Escaped Even Myself, a collaborative music performance using laptop computers with Zai Kuning, Yuen Chee Wai, The Observatory’s Evan Tan, and Danish sound designers Lasse Mauhaug and John Hegre. Chua’s personal favorite is Lamentation for Uncle Song, the first in a series of many that explores the lives and imagination of a fictional theater director called, well, Uncle Song. It is an evocative and moody performance, conceptualized and directed by Chua, with the help of a female singer and mime artist. In some of the show’s quirkier segments, Chua introduces to audiences found objects that supposedly belonged to Uncle Song, adding to the show’s depth and dexterity, which will be further explored in the upcoming art exhibition The Unnamed Servant or The Goat Slayer in June.

Chua’s idiosyncrasies and quirks are just part of his multifaceted works. “They are all interconnected, from my earlier body movement works to my exploration of sound art,” he says. “The main thread that runs through my work is: where does sound come from? My works essentially explore the origin of sound … and try to understand and unravel its complexity. I want audiences to appreciate the implications that sound has: Socially, philosophically and spiritually.”

Chua’s next big project, alongside friends and longtime collaborators Yuen Chee Wai and Alvin Lim, is a sound and installation piece for the Singapore Biennale in November. “I will further explore the themes of inhabitation, and how sound basically inhabits space. It’s going to be mind blowing.”

The Unsung Hero: Zai Kuning

You must have heard of Zai Kuning. Or perhaps not. The reclusive and highly gifted 42-year-old multidisciplinary artist only recently took home the best sound accolade at the Life! Theatre Awards, but he has been a full-time artist for as long as he can remember. Zai, who employs a wide range of practices to his craft—from documentary video, poetry and dance to theater, music and performance art—has been consistently pushing the boundaries of contemporary art here and is certainly regarded as one of our most avant-garde practitioners.

The son of a musician father, Zai first discovered music and the arts when he was 16, even if he never had formal education at the time. “I was a wedding singer in the kampongs that I grew up in,” he says. “Thus, I was introduced to music at a very young age.” To further his interest in the arts, he studied ceramic art at LaSalle in 1985, before moving on to study natural chemicals in 1987 in Japan.

Following his return to Singapore in 1990, Zai joined the then influential art collective The Artists Village, founded by revered local painter and performance artist Tang Da Wu. “It was then that I started to know about performance art,” he says. “I learnt about the disciplines and techniques involved … and I began to lean towards dance and theater as a potential for me to express myself creatively.” It was a natural progression for Zai to set up his own art and dance company, Metabolic Theatre Laboratory (1994-1999), and immerse himself in various dance forms.

While garnering a strong following, Zai has never really received commercial acclaim until recently, which is a good thing, as his guerilla-like status lends his works the extra edge. Consider some of his more obscure and little known works: The highly personal documentary Riau (2000), which explores the lives of gypsies living in the Riau islands, the confounding Erocicism. Flower of Evil (2003) and the weird and entertaining Prodigal Song (1996), which featured male dancers prancing around in their underwear, was considered by many as a work that was ahead of its time. Zai’s most recent exhibition at Sculpture Square last year, the simple, yet disturbing Tree in a Room, is also one of his most impressive, as it featured a sinister looking solitary tree, possibly straight out of an episode from Tales from the Darkside.

“I feel like a nomad who is moving from river to river, changing myself accordingly, and doing different types of art,” Zai explains of his artistic instinct. “I really do prefer to do different things as I do not want to be involved in just one aspect of art.”

Like his fellow compatriot, George Chua, Zai also dabbles in sound art, and is as comfortable tempering with the guitar as performing in the dance form. For his upcoming Singapore Biennale piece, Zai will be creating a video and installation piece which has viewers strapped to a chair in a confined room, while a video featuring numerous arts figures lament the state of the arts. “It is a six-hour video, and those who want to watch it must watch the whole thing. There will be no alternative,” he says with a slight chuckle. With such an uncompromising approach towards art, no wonder Zai Kuning is regarded as one of our most longstanding underground artists, bar none.

The Puppet Master: Chong Tze Chien

Playwright, actor and director Chong Tze Chien has come a long way. While it was just six years ago in 2000 that the 31-year-old first entered the theater scene as Associate Playwright for The Necessary Stage (TNS), today the amicable Chong has managed to establish his own turf. Chong left TNS two years ago after working on notable projects such as Pan Island Expressway (2001) and Spoilt (2001), before joining the then fledgling puppetry and theater company The Finger Players in 2004, turning it around 180° degrees.

Helming as Company Director, Chong led the company into two major wins at the Life! Theatre Awards recently: Best Director for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2006), and Production of the Year and Best Ensemble Acting for Furthest North, Deepest South (2005). From an obscure puppetry company that almost closed in 1998 because of financial crisis, The Finger Players has emerged as one of the most profiled and cutting-edge theater companies today.

“It was almost serendipitous as I had just left TNS, and I received a call from Players’ Artistic Director Tan Beng Tian on the day itself to work on a script,” says Chong. “The company had wanted to branch out from doing just children’s puppetry to adult theater. There was a change in artistic direction and management structure … and I was there.”

Chong’s first production for the company, the unanimously lauded Furthest North, Deepest South, about the travels of Chinese navigator Eunuch Cheng Ho, is a breath of fresh air in our stale theatrical arena. Fusing live-sized puppetry with stage actors and a minimal set, the $50,000 production (a small sum as most plays are staged from $80,000 onwards) is innovative for its unconventional approach to theater, and is a joyous watch from the get go, thanks to an entertaining script, also penned by Chong. His follow-up, the darker and more dramatic Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, staged at The Arts House last year, also fuses puppetry to highlight the play’s darker themes such as alienation and deteriorating relationships.

“Usually, people associate puppets with something decisively childlike … but we manage to utilize the puppets to explore adult topics, changing perceptions on what makes local theater and puppetry,” says Chong, on what makes his plays tick. “Compelling theater is about telling good stories. All I want is to create works that people will remember and talk about in 10, perhaps 100, years from now.”

The Mad Scientist: Donna Ong

Don’t be fooled be her appearance. Pretty, diminutive artist Donna Ong may look like a sweetheart in person, but her intricate installation artworks and drawings are anything but. Most well known in the local arts circuit for her successful first solo exhibition Palace of Dreams last year, where she presented a series of detailed pencil drawings of insect wings as well as an installation, Ong is one of Singapore’s youngest, and possibly most morbid, local artists yet to emerge from the woodwork.

The 27-year-old architecture and arts graduate from University College London and Goldsmiths College, respectively, has had many group exhibitions in the UK prior to her return to Singapore. And it was then that she discovered her inner demons. “It took a while before I realized that I had a certain art style,” says Ong. “The tutors in UK helped a lot in gearing me towards where my artworks are now … which explore the themes of obsession, desire, faith and hope through the use of different personas.”

For the 2002 mixed media piece “Sing O Barren Woman,” for example, Ong constructed what looks like a project that Dr. Frankenstein would be proud of. The piece, which is reminiscent of a science laboratory, consisted of test tubes, jars, tubing and a children’s doll. Ditto the fantastic Pause, which took six months to conceive. The piece’s setup, which also doubles up as a work space for an imaginary obsessive compulsive scientist, delves into the subject of physical excess.

The same amount of obsession that Ong puts into her works, which usually takes a few months to complete, is equally fascinating. “It’s a way for me to relive certain roles, to be able to step out of myself, look at different situations and relish in them,” she explains. “My work is about adopting a certain identity … to live out what my characters would be thinking and doing. If I want to show the themes of belief and faith in my work, I should be reliving the themes myself. It’s about believing in something even though there is no reward. Like the famous philosopher Kierkegaard, who pretended to be different characters during his lifetime, you have to practice what you preach.”

For the upcoming Singapore Biennale in November, Ong will be showcasing three works at the Supreme Court in City Hall. It will be a dreamy and dark mélange of drawings, installations and other weird objects. “The works will center on the secret fantasies of three judges, and how they have their whims and fancies about caves, flying machines and Frankenstein complexes.” We can’t wait already.

The Necessary Newbie: Natalie Hennedige

While her previous performances with TNS were more emotionally wrought, it seems that Natalie Hennedige, who set up new theater company Cake Theatrical Productions in August last year, has now gotten the chip off her shoulders. At TNS, she was resident actress and director for plays such as Beginnning of the End (2002) and Abuse Suxx!!! (2002).

The chatty actress is extremely excited about her role as Artistic Director for her own theater company. “I got comfortable and stable after working with TNS for a few years,” explains Hennedige, on her decision to move on. “And when you work for a company that doesn’t belong to you, you are basically working for someone else … and working on their artistic vision, rather than your own. I wanted to do my own thing and challenge myself artistically.”

Hennedige’s directorial debut with Cake, the $170,000 Animal Vegetable Mineral last year, was a fun and sometimes serious tale about taking the leap of faith. Balancing comedic and dramatic elements, the second half of the play was particularly notable as its narrative became increasingly surreal and messy, but in a good way. “The plays that I want to make will reflect the name of the company itself, which is ‘cake,’ which is fun, sweet and sometimes unexpected with a lot of layers. I want to create very contemporary works, but without taking myself too seriously … focusing on pieces that are adventurous, unique and edgy, drawing on pop culture and suitable for the MTV generation.”

Hennedige’s latest work, Queen Ping, which was a collaboration with Esplanade’s The Studios series, is equally fun and infectious. The play centers on a dysfunctional family, and features talents such as visual artists Rizman Putra and Brian Gothong Tan, and actors Norlina Mohamed and Michael Corbridge. Brimming with an innovative stage design courtesy of Tan, who also acts in the play, Queen Ping is vibrant and memorable.

Next up for Hennedige and Cake: An adaptation of Sophocles’ classic Antigone, but reworked with a modern edge. “I know I took a huge risk starting Cake, especially learning the ropes in TNS and knowing how hard it is to run a theater company. But I knew I needed to put up all the stops and run with the idea. Hopefully, with the kind of multi-sensory plays that I am doing, audiences will find local theater fun again.”


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