Season 2 of Timeless Tales Family Theatre Festival was held at the Goodman Arts Centre from 14th – 16th February 2020, and opened to sold-out audiences in all five shows despite the coronavirus scare in Singapore. Producers Anindita Ghosh and Shalima Motial successfully executed a massive undertaking, pulling together 60 artists from 16 nationalities. The two-and-a-half-hour long extravaganza delivered seven plays, adapting classic tales into modern themes, incorporating comedy, satire, romance and thrill. The opener, Alice in Webberland, was a take on the all-pervasive influence of the internet on the impressionable youth. With the internet symbolising Alice in Wonderland’s iconic rabbit-hole, the lead character falls through and meets various personified applications such as Siri-ous, Alexa and the Cat-board (keyboard). Directed by Anindita Ghosh and written by Dreamy Somani, the play attempted to shed light on online bullying, showing how quickly the seemingly friendly applications turned against Alice. Although the intention was noble, the play fell short in its execution. The build-up of the theme was a little too accelerated, and the comic-timing in the initial scenes seemed forced. Overall, this was a slightly damp opener, although a stand-out moment was Alexa, played by Izabella Chia, in her sparkly silver costume, commanding the stage with her lively rap.
Next, This Side & That Side of Love, written by Award Winning Film Director Shilpa Krishnan Shuklaand directed by Himanshu Motial, was a comedic take on the classic love-story Devdas. A lovelorn young man is counselled through his recent break-up by the singing ghosts of Devdas and Chandramukhi. A drunken Devdas swigs from a bottle of Johnny Walker while he musically urges the young man to “Just Keep Walking”, interrupted by Chandramukhi, who rubbishes this method, and recommends the healthier alternative of finding other means to happiness. Being advertised as a production for the whole family, it was surprising to see alcohol being such a strong theme. In fact, a young girl in the row behind remarked loudly, “Daddy! Is he drunk?” leading to her father having to explain in hushed tones that it was just acting! This play was touted as a musical and relied heavily on the song lyrics to convey most of the dialogue. Unfortunately, the accompanying music was extremely loud, and overpowered the lyrics completely. Consequently, the audience had to strain to make out the lyrics and this hampered the experience significantly. This could also be a reason for the average vocals by the lead actors – perhaps they had to strain to be heard above the music, thus affecting the quality of their singing. The casting too, seemed like an odd choice, with the role of the Indian dancer being essayed by a Singaporean, Aricia Ng. Although she did the most justice to the vocals, her accent seemed out of place.
We were then treated to Kid-Nabbed, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Written and directed by Anindita Ghosh, this production shone bright in all aspects. Holmes is brought in to investigate the suspicious disappearance of young Anna Olsen and is flanked by his trusted allies John Watson and Inspector Lestrade. From the minute the lights dimmed and the iconic trio marched onstage, the audience was enraptured! Every action heightened the impending panic, especially the flustered housemaid, Ms. Westfield, portrayed perfectly by Carolyn Camoens, as she flapped on and off stage in a frenzy. But the star of the show was Sherlock Holmes himself, essayed to perfection by Sreyus Palliyani. His erratic demeanor was a take on Holmes which harked back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original literature. With every dialogue delivered in a flawless Victorian English accent in his booming, deep voice, he made the audience sit up and take note of his impeccable stage presence. Without missing a cue, he confidently strides around the stage, keenly taking note of everything and everyone. In scenes where he was in the background, he never once broke character, whether he was inspecting paintings in the background or simply standing intimidatingly close to his suspect. His chemistry with Dr John Watson, played by the burly Stephen Lodge, was a treat to watch! The two actors played off each other perfectly, with Watson playing the goof to Palliyani’s stoic Holmes. In one scene, Holmes narrows in on his suspect, walking towards her while she backs up, and Watson steps in behind her, using his robust belly to block her way. The use of space by the director, Anindita Ghosh was particularly noteworthy. Heather Mullins portrayed a female Inspector Lestrade, and special mention is to be made for her matter-of-fact delivery and avoiding a dumbed down Lestrade, as is always the case. Managing to incorporate the kidnapping scene, with a screaming and flailing young Anna, portrayed by the adorable Vaanya Garg, being carried away by a man with his face hidden resulted in audible gasps from the younger audience members! The slightly overdone histrionics by the culprit in the climax just added to the drama in this thrilling play. Once the mystery is solved and Holmes lights his pipe while charismatically winking at the audience, you wish this was Netflix and you had another episode to binge-watch immediately!
Death at the Door was a comic piece based the legend of the Grim Reaper and brought to mind W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an ancient Mesopotamian tale. Death personified knocks at the door dressed all in black except for an obnoxiously large red bow in her big, curly hair. From the moment Nancy Lee comes onstage as Death, armed with her clipboard, you are unable to take your eyes off her. Every dialogue is delivered with impeccable comic timing, as she battles the stubborn wife of her football-loving target. She insists that she has a schedule to stick to, while the wife rattles off multiple alternative victims, including her annoying boss, and the man next door with an affinity for “very young Thai girls”. Despite the simple premise, Nancy keeps the audience in splits throughout. The perfect lighthearted segue into the second half of the evening. Death at the door was written by Maria Teresa Alvarado and directed by Sonali Mehta.
Love at 35,000 Feet, written by Tanuj Khosla and directed by Indranil Banerjee, is inspired by the troublemaker duo of Bonnie and Clyde and attempts to pull off the ambitious plotline of a mid-air international heist. Right off the bat, the casting seems problematic. With the middle-aged Mousumi Roy Chowdhury playing Bonnie to a vividly younger actor portraying Clyde, there seemed to be a lack of synergy within the cast. The set too, was mediocre, and little was done to replicate the inside of an airplane. Still, Maxi powers through these setbacks, and his performance as the concupiscent young man was consistently endearing and hilarious.
Fare Trial, written and directed by Sanjeev Verma, was a satirical take of Leo Tolstoy’s classic, intended as a scathing commentary on a corrupt justice system that fails miserably and ends up convicting an innocent bystander. Chaya Gonzales stands out in her portrayal of the prosecution. Set in a small European town at the border of France and Italy, the actors’ inconsistent accents were a grating irregularity. The accents ranged from Indian to British, and severely impeded the dialogue delivery of an otherwise strong script.
The closing act was Tale as Old as Time, written by Jeni Louise Ayodele and directed by Aaron Mayes,a take on Beauty and the Beast, performed by the Evolve Arts Drama School. This was a heartwarming tale of two classic characters reminiscing their glory days. Scenes from the original play were reenacted from the memories of an aged Beauty and her Beast. Set to a beautiful musical score, by Fingal Olsson, including their namesake Tale as Old as Time, this was the perfect way to close out the evening, leaving the audience with a smile on their face.
Timeless Tales Theatre Festival truly delivers what they promise – an enthralling evening, taking the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions with their rich lineup. The opportunity to see iconic characters from much-loved classic tales brought to life again is a truly mesmerizing experience. Arclight Productions and Dreamcatchers, helmed respectively by Anindita Ghosh and Shalima Motial have pulled of an extraordinary masterpiece for the second year in a row, and we look forward to see what Season 3 has in store for us next year!