Feeling a bit overwhelmed with SG50 tributes? Before you let yourself zone out over yet more tributes and parades to come, Go Away recommends you catch Dim Sum Dollies: The History Of Singapore Part 1 (DSD: THOS Part 1). Here, 4 reasons why it is the best SG50 tribute so far.
Worthy mention: The Loh Mai Guys (ensemble dancers) gave a stellar performance with their high-energy dance moves! Even when they were just acting in the background, you can see that the boys really put in the effort to make the appropriate expressions. Their enthusiasm gave the show a consistent and infectious buzz. So do remember to give them a warm round of applause when you go catch DSD: THOS Part 1!
1. YES! Finally someone figured out how talk about our “small fishing village” past DIFFERENTLY!
Expecting yet another spiel about how Singapore has come a long way from being a tiny fishing village to becoming an international trade hub? No way, honey. The Dim Sum Dollies, along with their trusty sidekick in the form of Hossan Leong, will have none of that. The show kicked off with the trio perched in the centre of the stage, dressed up as mermaids. singing about this tiny island, so small it resembles “a snot from heaven” (no one said “Little red dot” too! YAY!), while Leong, exhibiting lightning-fast costume-changing skills, assumed the roles of various famous historical figures, like Julius Caesar and Alexander The Great, who would not deign to claim the island. Expect to ROTFLOL when Leong appears onstage as Admiral Cheng Ho Ching and talks about how he’s set his sights on Temasek (another old name of Singapore and name of an investment company owned by the Government of Singapore, whose CEO is Ho Ching).
2. Expect a hilarious blend of history and current affairs
Infamous blogger Amos Yee got a mention (see if you can catch the wordplay) in the segment about fearsome pirates in the Straits of Malacca. This segment also earned a huge dose of laughter from the audience with jibes made about Singapore’s CPF policy. And then, in the bit featuring Sir Stamford Raffles in negotiation with Tengku Long (the rightful heir to the Sultanate of Johore who was bypassed in favour of his younger brother, and reinstated to the throne by the British), the Dollies made fun of the SPG (Sarong Party Girl) stereotype by morphing from traditional nonyas gawking at the British colonists to partygoers dressed in tight dresses made with one of the country’s most iconic kebaya material, who naively believe a one-night stand is all they need to snare a rich expat husband. Perhaps, the most inspired amalgamation of old and current was the segment about our historical role as a key port in the spice trade. The four leads, along with a human-sized bundle of cinnamon sticks, performed a spicy twist to a medley of Spice Girls’ hits that was refreshing, hilarious, and certainly original.
3. It does not get overlee sappy
Of course, you can’t talk about the Singapore story this year without a tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. But, how would a comedy do that without being disrespectful or becoming confused? In the segment that dealt with Singapore’s expulsion from the Malayan Federation, the Dollies became volunteers for the “men in white” and executed a catchy number filled with words like “luckylee“, “surprisinglee“, “capablee” … you get the idea. Though there were a couple of lines that hinted to the famous scene of the late Mr Lee’s crying on TV, no archival photos, no snippets of speeches were played. The late political leader’s name was also not mentioned at all. The segment was clever, and may I even say, classy. Well done, DSD.
4. It still managed to entertain and surprise
In between set changes and longer costume changes, Leong entertained the audience with his signature – one-man comedy. In one segment, he was an Indian worker [pictured above at a rehearsal], talking to his pet cow: “My employers are not bad, ” the Indian worker says. “They make sure I’m never lonely – I share a room with 50 other people.” In another, he was Gandhi: “I think you Singaporeans are like us. We need to overthrow the government.” Pause. Scowled at amused audience. “Don’t get so excited. I’m talking about the British.”
Besides these 4 reasons, here’s why DSD: THOS Part 1 really succeeds as a SG50 tribute. There is no obsession with sticking to the “sanctioned” storyline of what made Singapore what it is today. Every National Day, we are treated to the same-old-same-old plot: small fishing village, successful international hub of everything, how we overcome adversities like the SARS epidemic, how racial harmony is really important to us, how the people are so productive and adaptable that we don’t have to fear in times of an economic crisis … And it is probably going to happen again at this year’s National Day Parade, albeit with a touching and fitting tribute to Lee Kuan Yew. But with The History Of Singapore Part 1, the Dim Sum Dollies have managed to answer something many of us have been asking for many years: Is there no other way to remember the Singapore Story other than this predictably strait-laced version that’s been done and repeated to death in our school textbooks? The answer is a resounding Yes. This production is proof that creativity and humour has a place in the Singapore narrative, and it doesn’t always have to be an endless barrage of Singlish words, and of over-the-top caricatures of expatriates and Singaporeans. The one thing that has always annoyed me when it comes to the “Singaporean humour” is how performers assume that the addition of a “lah” or an exaggerated “wah lau!” would make everything funny. But this often ends up grating, gratuitous, and contrived. Thankfully, at DSD: THOS Part 1, none of that was apparent and I think it’s proof that, on our 50th birthday, we have, with the help of the Dim Sum Dollies, finally figured out how to make the Singaporean Identity our very own.
Dim Sum Dollies: The History Of Singapore Part 1 will play at The Esplanade Theatre from now till 21 June 2015. Tickets are available from Sistic.