Magic beans with giant laughs

Review Theatre

Jack & the Bean-Sprout!

Wild Rice

Drama Centre/Last Saturday

What is the value of a handful of magic beans? Some might deem them utterly useless, to be taken lightly, or others might harbour some scepticism. Or you could surrender your good sense to the wind and just choose to believe in the magic.

Despite its fairy-tale origins, Jack & the Bean-Sprout! should not be taken lightly. Yes, the pantomime is funny, a tad too silly at times, and is largely meant for families with children. However, judging from the laughter and the raucous audience participation, it was not just the kids who were having a ball of a time. It is family-friendly, yet peppered with enough double entendres to keep the adults happy.

Directed by Ivan Heng, the play is supported by a genuinely funny cast. Caleb Goh is believable as the gullible Jack, and Darius Tan as the casino-loving, emotionally blackmailing Widow Neo is a tour de force in her sequined outfits cut till there.

The motley crew of loansharks-turned-civil servants, the Widow's sidekicks Siew Dai and Kopi Gao, and the hilarious Golden Hits Harp and Goose Mangat (the names alone will have you tittering), will leave you in stitches.

The cast should also be praised for dealing with onstage technical difficulties with aplomb. A faulty prop door leads the characters to use the non-existent "back door", and when Siew Dai's (played by Jo Tan) wig falls off, she attributes it to stress due to being accosted by a group of thugs.

However, the laughs are not always cheap. True to its pantomime origins, playwright Joel Tan's script spares no sacred cows and skewers prominent personalities, establishment and local politics. For example, the beans are sold to Jack by two evangelical con artists, Khong Bak and Khong Guan (played by theatre stalwarts Karen Tan and Siti Khalijah), who use the ruse of a "Giant from above" as a scare tactic to extort money from people, an obvious reference to a certain religious leader recently in the spotlight.

Unapologetically Singaporean, the script employs the use of the Hokkien dialect to great effect for many of its punchlines.

Presented sans subtitles, the use of Singlish is rousing, with one character in the Giant's castle quipping the familiar remark that one can instantly recognise a Singaporean from his accent.

Music director Elaine Chan deserves mention for the musical arrangement of the songs in the show. Though some are forgettable, the ballad Why So Jia Lat and the love song, I Liddat Liddat You, in particular, stand out, especially because of the clear and compatible voices of Goh and Ethel Yap.

Sceptics might find the idea of a giant tau-geh or bean-sprout silly, but the play does cover some serious themes to varying degrees.

These include references to the class divide in Singapore (Jack, an ACS-Hougang Branch student, is taunted by his Bukit Timah counterparts), to the dangers of gambling addiction, the obsession with materialism in Singapore (and the bewildering nature of recent condominium names) and even issues of xenophobia.

In the end though, it is just no fun to be a sceptic. The almost two-hour show demands your full attention, and indeed deserves it, to be truly magical. Though imperfect, you cannot resist but break down your own defences and let yourself be pulled into this wacky world that Wild Rice has built.

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