Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boeing Boeing: This comedy is still hot

Director Glen Goei’s Asian adaptation of French classical farce Boeing-Boeing (originally written by French playwright Marc Camoletti) has worn well. It was first performed in October 2002 at Jubilee Hall, Singapore and then reprised again in 2005 at Victoria Theatre.

In its third avatar, this Wild Rice Production lives up to its raunchy reputation, and going by the audience reaction, it is already a resounding success.

The original play’s English language adaptation, translated by Beverley Cross, was first staged in London in 1962. It had a dream run of a total of seven years. The play, when it moved across the Atlantic, became a Broadway success. In 1991, the play entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most performed French play throughout the world. Is this a play or a bottle of wine?

The theme of the play—a philandering young man’s well-planned shenanigans and trickery of being betrothed to three different air hostesses at the same time and the fun and complications that such a set up leads to—seems to be a bit old now, as social ethics around marriage and romantic love have loosened even in Asia. Still, the hilarity that such a comic plot ensures finds favour with the audiences even today. The situational comedy has been so popular that even Bollywood adapted it in 2005 as Garam Masala, and hit the box office jackpot.

There is no change in terms of characters in the play. Adrian Pang plays the heartthrob Bernard and his three leading ladies are Emma Yong, Wendy Kweh and Chermaine Ang who are air hostesses with JAL, SIA and Cathay Pacific. Adrian’s English friend Robert is Daniel York and his maid Minah is Siti Khalijah.

The play’s first act, as far as I am concerned, is rather dull, with all the introductions and setting up. But right from the second act, when Adrian’s plans start to come unstuck, the play changes gear and actors come alive with their performances. The audience was in splits. I don’t remember the members of audience having so much fun during a play.

In terms of choosing devices or adapting the play to an Asian setting, this is a job well done. Emotionally vulnerable Junko’s Japanese accent, the tigress-like Singaporean air-hostess with her eye on the billionaires, and the delicate heart and hot body of the Cathay girl—all add to the mix of a heady cocktail. Pang pulls off his role as a bragging bachelor, clever with ladies and is complemented by his pal, York. Equally important is the maid played by Khalijah who causes laughter whenever she opens her mouth. The new super jumbo and the volcanic ash in Europe update the narrative with twists that eviscerate Pang’s plans.

The downside, if any, is the play’s predictability for even a first time viewer like me. Except for a handful of social and political comments (there is a line on Singapore’s democracy and a few barbs at the inflow of foreign talent and how the fear of paying maintenance to divorced wives keeps the economy stable), there is not much to make you wonder here, and there is nothing to absorb beyond the obvious on the stage, which, as you can guess anyway, heads towards a predictable denouement. There are no thought-provoking or intellectually amusing Woody Allen type monologues. Every scene is an interaction and highly verbose. Still, it works and if you want to enjoy a pure and simple comedy, this is it for you.

Catch this play at the Drama Centre Theatre, NLB, 100 Victoria Street, from 4 August to 4 September.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Parenthood and writing

There is a pram in the hallway! That prospect might scare many writers. Naipaul wanted children but never had one. Once he said, for a writer, a child born is equal to a book killed.

I am glad, in this article (The parent trap), as an example, Tracy Chevalier has answered this question exactly how I would have liked to answer it..."maybe what's in the pram – breathing, vulnerable life, hope, a present responsibility – is actually more important than good art. It might make us produce less art, but maybe it would be art with the future at its heart." (Frank Cottrell Boyce's words)

A few years ago, I decided that for me family comes first. Writing is secondary. Family cannot be allowed to suffer on account of writing. Even if it means courting failure, so be it. After all, isn't success the greatest enemy of promise? A balance is required. A writer, with his family, needs to form a truce of cooperation to create art. A lot of books in our age are unreadable because writers religiously write at least a book a year (a business model?) and don't have the time or inclination to raise a family or go and buy turnips. What kind of art will come from that kind of life? Lifeless, manufactured, arid...make your list.

I enjoyed reading this piece by Frank Cottrell Boyce on writing and parenthood:

For centuries, writers have sung the virtues of staying connected to the routine and the mundane. Real creativity should feel like a game, not a career. Having to hang out the washing or get up and make breakfast helps you remember that your "work" is actually fun. And for it to stay fun, you have to be unafraid of failure. It's very powerful to be surrounded by people who love you for something other than your work, who are unaware of the daily, painful fluctations of your reputation. I discovered recently that my youngest child thought I spent my days typing out more and more copies of my book Millions, so that everyone could have one.

Writing is a peculiar balancing act between freedom and discipline. Writers are free to spend their days doing whatever they like; but if they don't write, then they are not writers. They are on their own and so vulnerable to every distraction, whether that's drink or the Antiques Roadshow. Jonathan Franzen has said that "it is doubtful that anyone with an internet connection in his workplace is writing good fiction". Family is, of course, the most potent distraction, and probably the only distraction that makes you feel virtuous when you surrender to it.