Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lao Jiu 《老九》in Review - 22 July 2012

Consider this another first for The Mad Scene. Since this is an English-language publication, we have decided to go the extra mile by having my Basso Canaries partner Andrew Xiao pen his opinions in Chinese, while my thoughts are documented on an English review. Lee Kwan-Yew has often said that we shouldn’t take our bilingualism for granted, so here’s your chance to sharpen your skills.

Director Kuo Jian-Hong said in pre-production publicity materials that she intends to make this musical adaptation of the late Kuo Pao-Kun’s play more accessible by ‘Disney-fying’ it. And so it was filled with many entertaining song-and-dance routines, capably performed by pop-singing competition contestant Sugie and his co-stars. But once the glossy veneer is stripped away, one is hit by the same difficult questions that the late Guo had posed to the audience and exemplified by the title character: the question of whether you should pursue your dreams that might not be in accord with what society expects, or follow what others might think is best for you.

Such is the dilemma of Lao Jiu, being born with a brain that is smarter than most, and at most times stifled and weighed down by the tremendous expectations his family had placed upon him. We also see the effects of our rapidly growing society have made on the past generation, how the once-popular trade of puppetry has died off and bringing along with it the puppeteer's means of earning a living, and the elders’ hopes that their children can avoid suffering a similarly tough life through education.

And so the title character, with the world’s expectations weighing down on him, is at once a sympathetic hero and the unwilling villain of his family and other well-intentioned supporters. One is made unclear as to whether we should be happy or disappointed with the final outcome; while we are happy to see that he has finally found his voice, we are nonetheless unsure as to whether he has made the right choice.

The play gives no easy answers. Leaving the theatre after watching Lao Jiu, I came away thoroughly entertained but yet also filled with a strange sense of unease, strong emotions that are difficult to put into words. The genius behind this work is that in bringing up these hard questions in such a relatable character and in a societal context that we can all relate to, one is in turn forced to question his or her own inner psyche: what decision would you have made if you were in his position? What price are you willing to pay to pursue your dreams? For myself who is also pursuing an artistic career, the impact is all the more deeply felt.

I also came away with deep admiration for Sugie, who plays the title role. Throughout this 2 and a half hour production he barely gets to leave the stage, yet sings, acts and dances perfectly in time with his cast-mates; his boy-next-door demeanour makes you root for him as you would root for yourself, so relatable is his characterisation.

In the end, this is a musical with the total package: attractive song and dance, a star-studded cast, and a good script with lots of heart. It’s even a good psychotherapy session too!



谁是老九? 老九本身有代表什么?这是我在观看已故本地戏剧大师,郭宝崑的代表作,《老九》刘晓义改编的音乐剧,《老九》所发出来的问题。








Lao Jiu runs till this coming Sunday 29 July 2012. Check out the Events Page for details.

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