Bringing Army Daze into the 21st century
This year’s production of Michael Chiang’s Army Daze, a repeat of its sold-out 25th anniversary run last year, is intent on bringing the ‘80s story of recruit Malcolm Png and his comrades up to date.
Malcolm Png (Dwayne Tan) and four other recruits play out Michael Chiang’s favourite storytelling formula of five weird characters learning to love and live with each other. There are plenty of references to Psy, Marina Bay Sands, and the Hail Lady (you know, the one who saw rain ‘drop, drop, drop’ ‘like grapes’), and the homesick 18-year-old characters use Whatsapp.
Changing social realities are reflected in the comedy’s punch-lines, too. Although one sub-plot involving soldiers ‘keeping’ girlfriends (like goldfish, or other non-human possessions?) feels dated, a whole musical number devoted to complaining about different NS requirements for new immigrants aptly addresses an aspect of BMT today that didn’t exist in 1987.
Siti Khalijah, as always, is fabulous and commanding as both Sergeant Khatib and a Filipina maid. Dennis Chew, with his booming voice and over-the-top hand gestures, plays Mrs Png, Malcolm’s overinvolved mother, very convincingly.
The script gets the speech patterns of Singaporean stock characters perfectly – that favourite cliché of the civil service (and armed forces), ‘part and parcel’, makes an appearance, and Corporal Ong’s (Chua Enlai) mispronunciations and nonsensical aphorisms (‘Interrogated Resort’, ‘We Hokkien got a saying…’) definitely remind us of people we know.
On the whole, Army Daze is solid, heartwarming entertainment. It doesn’t quite tell us anything new about Singapore, or National Service, or life in general, but its familiar jokes and enthusiastic, talented cast continue to charm us decades after the original Malcolm Png ORD’ed.
Army Daze will be staged at the Drama Centre Theatre until 28 July. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/