Crowd-pleasers and intimate encounters

Crowd-pleasers and intimate encounters

Singapore's longest-running theatre awards turns 15 this year, a major birthday for what remains the only annual awards to honour excellence in the country's theatre industry. From the audaciously experimental and irresistibly provocative to good ol' fashioned drama, Life! Theatre Awards has welcomed and celebrated them all.

With this milestone comes a new identity: telecommunications company M1 comes on board as the awards' title sponsor this year, which will now be known as the M1-The Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards.

Actress Pam Oei will host an invitationonly ceremony, themed Solid Gold, at the Esplanade Recital Studio on April 20, where the winners will be announced. This is held in collaboration with Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay and is also part of The Studios: fifty season, featuring 50 Singapore plays, which runs from April 2 to May 10.

Over the past 15 years, the awards have celebrated some of the most stunning and spine-tingling productions to grace the Singapore stage and charted the meteoric rise of many artists from newcomers to established players.

Each annual slate of nominees presents a snapshot of Singapore's diverse theatre industry and last year was no different - it was a year for sharp-tongued, crowd-pleasing comedy and intimate, unexpected encounters.

Wild Rice's rollicking pantomime with a heart of gold, Monkey Goes West, leads the pack with six nominations - including Production of the Year - for its musical take on the Chinese classic of Journey To The West, coupled with a uniquely Singaporean twist. It was a banner year for the company, with another four nominations for the intense The House Of Bernarda Alba, for a total of 10 nominations.

The company's founder, Ivan Heng, was thrilled by Monkey Goes West's nominations. He says of the work: "When you really think about Monkey Goes West, it had Xi You Ji (Journey To The West), flamenco, Chinese opera, wushu, shadow puppetry and the goddess of mercy Guan Yin played by Siti Khalijah Zainal, a Malay actress - I think what it offered was an experience you'll never see anywhere else in the world.

"This is what we've been trying to do with our entire body of work, to celebrate what it means to be Singaporean and to explain to ourselves and our audiences what it means to be Singaporean, with the ability to so freely adapt and borrow and bring it all together."

Another comedic production with almost as many nominations is Art, a razor-sharp Chinese adaptation of Yasmina Reza's popular French comedy about three friends clashing over an artwork. Nine Years Theatre bagged five nominations for the production.

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