Campus reviews High Class
by Teng Jing Xuan (Photos: High Class)
Michael Chiang fills his newest play, High Class, with spot-on caricatures that fall just on the right side of uncomfortably awkward. The plot follows the production of a reality TV programme that aims to groom young women for rich wifehood and becomes a hit despite its cast of five oddball contestants.
The most loveable contestant is probably 24-year-old Azizah Khatib (Siti Khalijah), the good-girl English and Geography teacher in a tudung, who hangs out at J-cube and threatens to STOMP some talent scouts when she thinks they’re being racist, understands Mandarin but feigns ignorance, and coins winning phrases like ‘absolute bodoh-ism’.
Contestant Ye Feng (Audrey Luo) hails from Beijing, loves tai chi and acupuncture, and comes awfully close to being an offensive stereotype… but her accent is so, so right, and everyone else onstage is so absurd that she fits in perfectly.
The role of the protagonist, socialite Alexis Li (Nikki Mulller) is played earnestly and written with such sympathy that she never comes off as a snob – despite her seemingly endless parade of Herve Leger dresses and Birkin bags, $500 billion divorce settlement, and queen bee-rivalry with aesthetician Siobhan (‘that bitch’), whose name is hilariously mispronounced by hairdresser Mac Fook (Shane Mardjuki). The audience roots for the glamourous, independent (but slightly vulnerable) Alexis throughout her TV-producing adventure.
The pacing of the play’s second act is thrown off slightly by long tracts of expository dialogue. A meeting between Ryan the TV host (Timothy Wan) and Alexis at ‘Home des Garçons’ (a boutique retirement home for men) seems to serve no purpose other than to tell the story of Alexis’s failed marriage to property tycoon Draycott Li (Andrew Lua). The second act, however, is also when the musical numbers grow to their full glory, and the cast truly shines as an ensemble.
High Class’s best moments are when it appears frivolous and casually shocking – such as during the climax of the game show storyline, when, after a bit of didactic moralizing from the contestants (the girls take turns to remind us that money is not everything; ‘deep down, I’m just a simple Singapore girl who’s happy with what she has,’ says one tai-tai wannabe), the scene is saved by three surprise marriage proposals, a lot of shrieking and a reversal of the campy gay hairdresser trope. Everything falls apart into delightful ridiculousness.
High Class runs until 14th July, at the Drama Centre (National Library Building). For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/Michaelchiangshighclassarmydaze.