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Singapore theatre classic Titoudao returns to the stage for its 30th anniversary

Singapore theatre classic Titoudao returns to the stage for its 30th anniversary
The new staging of Titoudao by director and playwright Goh Boon Teck (left) will feature actress Tan Rui Shan (right) in the lead role.
PHOTO: Toy Factory Productions

It's been 30 years since director and playwright Goh Boon Teck first staged Titoudao, a play that tells the story of his mother and devoted practitioner of wayang (Chinese street opera), Mdm Oon Ah Chiam.

Since then, Titoudao has seen seven re-stagings across various media, including tours to Cairo, Egypt and China. It was even adapted into a 13-episode TV series in 2021, which is still available to stream on Netflix.

Through it all, Titoudao received critical acclaim, garnering Best Original Script, Production Design of the Year and Play of the Year at the Life! Theatre Awards in 2001, and Best Costume Design in 2007.

If you haven't seen Titoudao, or even if you have, this is your opportunity to catch this timeless story set against the backdrop of Singapore's rapid development. From July 5 to 21, Titoudao will return to Victoria Theatre with a new staging that will feature brand new costumes and set design and a new cast led by actress Tan Rui Shan in the titular role. Tan is best known for her role as Mrs Lee Kuan Yew in Toy Factory's 2002 production, " Kwa Geok Choo".

We spoke with Goh about what audiences can expect from this latest staging of Titoudao and how his mother, now 81, feels about this re-telling of her life story.


How is this going to be different from the previous staging of Titoudao?

After the 2020 TV screening, we drew a new audience who had not seen the stage version. They only know Titoudao through the TV version. We talked a lot about this in the company and decided to bring back the stage version to connect to a new generation. That's really our main objective.

Do you think that this new generation is interested in the art of Chinese wayang and theatre?

We definitely hope so because nurturing the new generation of audiences is our job; it's our key responsibility. So whatever production in whichever genre or whatever new idea we have, we want to cultivate a new audience. We would be very happy if Titoudao could do that, and attract a new audience to the theatre scene.

What are some of your fondest memories of your mother when she was in the role of Titoudao?

Titoudao is the name of a character my mother played during her heyday in the wayang world in the 1960s, in a script called "The Righteous Saviour". After they performed the street opera version in a Taiwanese festival, the national TV station invited the troupe to record the wayang in the studio. Once it aired, everyone knew my mum as "Titoudao".

I remember when I was very young, wherever we went with my mum, everybody would call her Titoudao. In the shopping mall, in the street, in Malaysia… Penang and Malacca, people would call out, "Titoudao! Titoudao!"

How will this staging be different from the last?

On one level, we have tried to keep the original format and form because, after all these years, it's become a classic that people are familiar with. We have brought some new elements to kind of spice it up, though. This time, we invited Zhuang Hai Ning, a musician from Fujian, China, who is a master in Hokkien opera. He will be playing live along with my actors.

We've also added giant puppets to the show. Production-wise, we redesigned the entire set and costumes, adding these new elements to the original structure.

We didn't want to change much but rather fine-tune the existing format to work for a different audience generation. Whenever there is a restaging, it is a good opportunity to make it better and make it stronger. I really appreciate that.

Did you learn anything from the last staging that you won't repeat?

It seems that I'm always shortening the play (laughs). Maybe I've changed, or the audience has changed, but I feel the pacing needs to be tighter. The original staging was two and a half hours. Then it became two hours and 15 minutes, and now I think it's about two hours long.

I know I can't sit through a play that lasts more than two and a half hours now. I think we are all constantly multi-tasking and thinking about many things at the same time, so I've shortened it and left some blanks so that the audience can give imagination to their thoughts and exercise their own message within the play.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this staging?

This is really a call for everyone to take note of the dying culture of street wayang.

After 30 years, the urgency is even greater because it is a dying art that once had a huge impact. The performers from 30 years ago, like my mother, are getting old and I think everyone deserves to experience this part of our culture.

What does your mother think about this staging?

She's very excited! I'm glad to see that after 30 years, she's still very energetic and gives a lot of advice and thought about it. Because we are working closely with the Chinatown Business Association, they suggested that my mum do a talk on this play.

So, on June 1, my 81-year-old mother will do a talk! I'm very touched that this play and my mother are still alive. I don't know whether my mother fills the play, or the play fills her up, but I think it keeps her strong.

What advice has she given you about the play?

It's mostly constructive. She always says nice things and gives ideas to make me feel more confident about it. She never tells me what is bad or what shouldn't be done.

Is there any chance of her doing a cameo in the play?

In the last staging in 2015, my mum appeared in the show during the final scene. I didn't want to do that for this staging because it is far too demanding. In the theatre, our call time is early, we finish late. Having her does have a good effect, but I think we can accomplish that in other ways. She might come for the curtain call on the gala night, though.

Titoudao runs from July 5 to 21 at the Victoria Theatre.

Want to check out more traditional arts performances in Singapore?

Like Chinese wayang, traditional arts like Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) and wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppetry) are more than just beautiful spectacles.

They are gateways to our rich heritage and history, with inspiring sets and costumes that can help us connect with one another and with the generations before us.

To discover the charms of these art forms, look to these artistic companies for upcoming performances, workshops and courses:

Apsaras Dance Company

An Indian dance company that focuses on creating new works for presentation at international festivals.

Bhaskar Arts Academy

An Indian dance, music, and theatre company that performs three to four seasons annually. Its dedicated teaching wing, Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society Singapore, offers courses in Kathak, Bharatanatyam, and Kathakali and traditional musical instruments like the harmonium, veena, and flute.

Chinese Theatre Circle


Promotes the art of Chinese opera, dance and music in Singapore and beyond. Its Chinese Opera Teahouse stages shows and organises events that delve into the world of Chinese opera.

Nadi Singapura


An ensemble of young musicians dedicated to elevating traditional Malay drums and percussions.

Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts


A Malay dance company that blends traditional forms with contemporary techniques, it performs at more than 200 local events and 10 overseas festivals every year and conducts courses and workshops in schools.

Traditional Arts Centre (Singapore)

A resource and training centre for Chinese opera that promotes the art to young people. In addition to performing in Singapore and internationally, it holds Kids Teochew Opera courses on Sundays.

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