Theatre review: Chestnuts 6.9: The less miserable White Paper

Review Theatre


Venue: Drama Centre Theatre

Date: Last Friday

Stages' annual comedy and musical mash-up is a highlight of the local theatre scene and Chestnuts 6.9: The Less Miserable White Paper will give anyone a taste for the fare.

The selling point of the Chestnuts series is social commentary through slapstick - the grumbling from the ground turned into song, as the programme booklet says.

Actor-director Jonathan Lim and his energetic team this year take accurate and deadly potshots at every major headline, from the recently presented White Paper and its unpopular 6.9 million population projection, to the several sex scandals that have rocked the halls of government and civil service.

As always, this is through mash-ups of the music and musicals most on our minds, in this case the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables, starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, which made it to Singapore screens in May.

Chestnuts stalwarts Judee Tan, Judy Ngo, Dwayne Lau and Lim are joined this year by New Zealander Tim Garner in a send-up of Jackman's roles in Les Miserables and the X-Men movies franchise.

He was the "foreign talent" in a brilliant stroke of casting that made the audience laugh as well as examine their own responses to immigrants and the issue of immigration.

Chestnuts this year moved on from the 388-seater Jubilee Hall to the larger Drama Centre Theatre at the National Library building, which can seat 615.

To book the venue, Stages, a not- for-profit theatre group, sent out a crowd-funding appeal and raised around $40,000 to present one of the slickest productions I have seen from it thus far.

Costumes were appropriately ruffled in the manner of 19th-century Paris, surtitles efficiently bridged the gap as the cast of five switched languages and multimedia was used to excellent effect, not just to set scenes but also transform Tan into a real-life composite of actress Anne Hathaway's top roles.

The first night is always slightly longer than the others, with low-brow moments piled on heavily for long-term fans, though not all appreciate the show's risque antics with sausages and underwear as much as the razor-sharp round-up of the year's talking points.

For a time in the second half of the 180-minute show, I felt in charity with Garner as he morphed from Jackman's Valjean to Wolverine and mercilessly murdered characters mid-joke.

But the sleaze only slightly obscures Chestnuts' vision, which is to make us laugh and think as we confront ourselves.

The cast are formidably talented actors, fabulous singers and flipped the mood from histrionic to hilarious with frenzied costume and song shifts.

Lim's own past productions came in for a gentle roasting as well, with the team laughing as much at themselves as at others from the world of theatre or film.

To say more would be to ruin the fun. Make sure you get your serving of Chestnuts this year because it offers the sort of food for thought we need in our diet.

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