A 'novel' dining experience

APPRECIATING literature doesn't have to be a solitary activity. This Friday, ANDSOFORTH - a nomadic theatre group - is launching a pop-up event combining food, literature, and immersive theatre.

Based on and named after Goh Poh Seng's 1972 novel If We Dream Too Long (often said to be Singapore's first novel), this spin on secret suppers is a one-hour, 40-minute affair with guided interactions and a four-course meal that promises a, uh, novel dining experience.

If We Dream Too Long is one of several fringe events leading up to the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) later this year.

ANDSOFORTH's husband-and-wife team were first approached by SWF for a collaboration. The brief? "We were asked to pick a local book and to do our thing with it," says co-founder Stuart Wee.

"I went with Goh because the novel is so whimsical," he adds.

"It's about this character, Kwang Meng, who likes to escape from reality and his clerical job; he'll take medical leave and run to the sea, dreaming about the perfect family."

For Mr Wee, it's really about simpler times: "Basically the Singapore dream back then in the late 60s was just about having a house, a wife, and a job."

While Mr Wee is coy with the details, participants are likely to be dropped into several significant scenes in Goh's novel, with set-pieces that mix reality with dreamscapes.

Audiences don't have to be familiar with the book to enjoy themselves, though coming with an open mind and being ready to mingle with fellow diners and actors will enhance the experience.

"Singaporeans are typically shy and take time to warm up, but the complimentary drink will help too!" quips Mr Wee.

They've also engaged poet Marc Nair to adapt the book.

"The novel was probably one of the first to be written fully in the local vernacular," notes Mr Nair, who believes ANDSOFORTH's adaptation has mass appeal.

"Hopefully, this event will reach people who love the arts but who might not go for, say, a poetry reading," he explains.

"While cross-genre work is already being done elsewhere, here it's far more interactive, and also a touch more approachable and commercial with the F&B element."

On that note, expect authentic local fare by chef Chung Deming, of "mod sin" eateries The Quarters and Kush (at Timbre+).

Don't be surprised if you're accosted by an actor playing a kaypoh relative while you're tucking into, say, curry chicken.

The whole idea is to immerse yourself into the novel's universe and Kwang Meng's life, warts, zits and all.

And judging from a visit to the site, If We Dream Too Long is no fly-by-night operation; on top of actors rehearsing on the elaborate set, we spotted excel sheets full of sound cues and food plating timings so the whole multi-sensory experience will be perfectly synchronised.

This production marks a departure from ANDSOFORTH's usual fare: "We typically base our concepts on more commercial or light-hearted themes," says co-founder Emily Png.

For instance, their last pop-up was an indoor picnic, where participants could lay their mats on a fantastical, gnomish wonderland in the comfort of air-conditioning.

The Picnic went viral on social media and sold over 1,500 tickets, making it their most successful production to date. Their next event, to be held later this year, will be a spy-themed affair.

"But we're trying to support local literature and culture, which hopefully audiences here will not take for granted," adds Ms Png.

If We Dream Too Long runs for three weekends (Friday to Sunday) from this Friday till May 29.

Tickets at S$88 (inclusive of four-course local 60s cuisine and a drink) available from http://www.andsoforth.com.sg/


This article was first published on May 13, 2016.
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