Next, I Theatre’s latest play is a whole lot of fun, offering plenty of giggles for the kids and inside jokes for the adults – and everyone gets to take home a “jewel” or moral gem.
Eight Stories, 50 Minutes, 40 Characters
The play is an ambitious mixed bag of eight stories crammed into 50 minutes, with Southeast Asian folk stories from the likes of Japan, Korea, India, China, and yes, even Singapore.
However, the pace of each story does not feel rushed, or glossed over.
Helmed by four actors Elizabeth Loh, Adelynn Tan, Ebi Shankara and Alecia Kim Chua, who each took on 10 characters, Jewels in the Tale took stage like a rapid page-turning giant storybook of fables.
As promised, the show was filled with puppetry, costumes and silken scarves.
Mat Jenin and The Coconuts – a Malaysian tale – served up a strong start to the show. The lead character of Mat Jenin himself is a gangly puppet fashioned out of coconut-husk kitchenware.
The actors’ tongue-in-cheek Malay accent also drew some laughs.
From the Philippines, The Hermit and Two Worms scored with the two adorable puppet worms (they look more like wriggly caterpillars, really), which thrilled the tykes in the audience.
The story about two lowly worms who had the good fortune of being transformed into humans – only to become as selfish and indulgent as the humans they initially abhorred – is also a firm-handed fable about remembering one’s humble beginnings and caring for others.
The story Half A Loaf from Korea engaged with the topic of disability (the boy Half A Loaf was born with only half a body) with a keen but light touch.
The quick-witted Half A Loaf, stronger than both his jealous brothers, was re-imagined as a puppet made up of a broom and sticks.
With humour and cool strategy, Half overcame the insurmountable difficulties of mean brothers, a deadly tiger, and a rich, scheming old man.
Japanese tale, The Crane’s Gratitude, was a picture of grace, as the selfless crane flapped her silken wings with the slow dance of Japanese Noh.
She painstakingly plucked out her feathers to weave the most beautiful cloth, to repay the kindness of her foster parents, in this tale of love and sacrifice.
Different Flavours, Different Strokes
At times, the energy of the show flagged under the weight of the many tales. This is probably more to do with the fact that it’s a collection of tales – the audience does not have a chance to feel deeply for or invest in the development of any one character.
Still, the strength of Jewels in the Tale lies in the varied flavours and nuanced differences that each short story offers.
And the crown jewel has got to be the last story: The Tale of The Four Dragons. No wonder they left it till the last.
The rapping antics of “yo yo yo, wassup” hip-hop Black Dragon won the hearts of both the little ones and the adults. The house was roaring with laughter.
In this story, the chemistry among the four actors shone the brightest.
In-between quips of Cantonese and Chinese flavours of English as the dragon lords of the seas, the four actors did not miss a beat, at times chiding Black Dragon for his incessant “yo yo yos” and at other junctures discussing animatedly about how to save the commoners from drought.
And of course, there were the cheeky negotiations with the invisible Jade Emperor.
Stellar performances from the hardworking, tight-knit ensemble.
But don’t come expecting a musical – this show has very little by way of song or singing.
It is really more suitable for kids aged 4 and above; younger kids may not appreciate the dialogue.
And oh, spoiler alert – a really fun surprise lies in wait at the end of the play, so don’t run off early.
The colourful, high-energy Jewels in the Tale runs at Alliance Française from 17 to 30 August 2015. Get your tickets here.