W!LD RICE draws the Year of the Monkey to a close with Monkey Goes West, a cheeky retelling of the famous chinese classic with a Singaporean twist. Monkey Goes West is about an orphan, Ah Tang, who runs away from home after quarrelling with his adoptive father. Ah Tang longs for a sense of belonging, and miraculously finds himself befriending a trio of travellers in a foreign land. WuKong, Pigsy, and Sandy are unlikely and strange friends who take Ah Tang on a crazy adventure, with danger lurking at every corner. Will the foursome be able to defeat the monstrous King Bull? Will they be able to steal the magic fan?
Full of adventure and suspense, Monkey Goes West is a must-watch. We catch up with the cast to find out if it was any fun playing zhu ba jie and sun wu kong, and what fans can expect from this cleverly written tongue-in -cheek production. Interview by Natalie Kwan.
1.You have several theatre productions under your belt. What do you think would excite fans about your role in Monkey Goes West?
En Lai: This is Princess Iron Fan like you’ve never seen her before. She may just be the tallest, the hairiest and the loudest in the history of Journey to the West, with the deepest voice!
Drama is a battle between good and evil — you can’t have one without the other. So, while Princess Iron Fan is the villain du jour, I’m playing a villain with a heart. As the guardian of the fan, I get into fights and battles! But this is a panto, so there’ll be lots of singing and audience interaction.
- You play the orphan, Ah Tang. Have you ever encountered a similar situation where you struggled to find a sense of belonging?
Joshua: People will constantly feel the need to belong to a group, be it family or friends or at work. I have faced such situations all my life. In primary school, I found myself left out of the group of friends I wanted to be with. Things improved in secondary school, when I felt a sense of belonging in the military band. Adolescence brought a whole different bag of insecurities too. While I was part of the group, there was also that smaller sub group of “cool” friends that I wanted to be a part of but somehow didn’t feel like I fit.
Growing up to learn to be comfortable with who I am in my own skin helped me to overcome those times. But that comes with age, and with that, wisdom as well.
- This is your first English production. Did you have any concerns before taking on the role of Monkey King, and if so, what were they?
Sugie: When W!LD RICE approached me for the first time to do Monkey Goes West I was very nervous because it was my first English musical. During the show last year, I had quite a number of challenges to overcome , such as English not being my first language, the physical preparation for this role to fully encapsulate the essence of Monkey King .
During the previous run, I literally got paid to slim down and get fit— had dropped 7 Kg by the end of the run. I am truly humbled to be able to share the stage again with the cast, and I cannot wait to work and learn from them. I also love the kids who play the little piglets or the wu shu monkeys; they’re the cutest.
- How different is your character Pigsy from the original Zhu Ba Jie? Prior to being casted for this production, were you familiar with Journey to the West?
Frances: I modelled my portrayal of Pigsy very much upon the original portrayal of Zhu Ba Jie in Journey to the West. Zhu Ba Jie was always my favourite character, providing the comic relief in the show with his greediness and laziness. I grew up with the stories of Journey to the West, and I look forward to be able to play Pigsy and give more dimension and meat (even though Pigsy is vegetarian, oops!) to the hilariously comic role.
- Was it difficult for you to relate to a production adapted from a Chinese Classic? (Siti Khalijah)
Siti: It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be actually! I think it’s because the story is such a famous classic and we all grow up watching the many different versions of it, whether you’re Chinese or not. I had so much fun during rehearsals bringing my own interpretation of these iconic characters based on what I used to watch on TV, and still staying true to their intentions.
- How different is Monkey Goes West from the original Chinese novel, and what were the challenges you faced while adapting it into a Singaporean setting?
Alfian and Sebastian: The original Chinese novel is an epic story filled with many fantastical adventures that is ‘Journey to the West’. We chose one and incorporated a Singaporean story of a HDB family to the story. The story is told from the point of view of Ah Tang, a teenage boy who through his dream, brings the audience on a fantastical adventure that is ‘Journey to the West’. The challenge we faced with the Singaporean adaption was how we can still make this story relatable and believable while preserving the Chinese classic but once we found the device of ‘dream’, we were able to adapt this classic story into a Singaporean setting seamlessly.