I’ll be honest. I said yes, and then I backtracked and said no. I had seen two scenes from “Dim Sum Dollies – The History of Singapore Part 1” at a backstage event the night before and I got cold feet – I didn’t want to do the review. Not because it was a performance I didn’t want to see more of; I was simply worried I wouldn’t be able to do the show justice.
For those of you who have followed the Dim Sum Dollies on their voyage since 2004, you will probably think: “What is there to not understand? This is light comedy that makes jokes out of historic events in Singapore, it’s simple.” But to a Dane who have only spent 15 months in Singapore, it isn’t so elemental to understand a Singaporean social and political commentary on Singapore for Singaporeans. Or the satirical references to past events, done in a wide array of accents!
But I couldn’t get out of the review, whether it made any sense to me or not.
As I glanced around at the audience on Friday night, I counted two other Westerners, but they were not together. My husband and I were obviously the only Caucasian couple who had been silly enough to do this without any aid. But, to my relief, a Singaporean couple whom we know, were not just here to see the show, they happened to sit right next to us. Thank you, my translators for the night!
The curtains went up and Selena Tan, Pamela Oei and Denise Tan appeared in three colourful mermaid costumes behind a small island with a palm tree. I knew the show would start off at the beginning of Singaporean history, so seeing the mermaids and the island symbolising Singapore made me sigh with relief – this seemed relatively simple. And when actor Hossan Leong appeared, not only as Alexander the Great, but also as absurd versions of Marco Polo, Julius Cesar and Genghis Khan, I was already laughing along with the rest of the audience. I didn’t need my translators. Phew.
Of course there would be times when the accents were too tough to grasp or the odd reference would go a miss. But when Hossan Leong and the three Dollies appeared, dressed up as a star anise, a ginger root, a chili and a black pepper hugging a cinnamon, it was more or less of spelled out for us. And despite these ‘five spices’ being such as simple way of explaining the ‘first attempts on trade’’, the fact that the script was so creative and innovative had the audience laughing all the way through.
There is no doubt there was a following of established fans in the room that night, but the cheers and laughs came often and from all over the complex. Naturally, the satire and puns are hard to convey in a review, but particularly the play on words and translation hiccups worked well for the Dollies. I did, however, need my Singaporean assistance when people cracked up laughing when Denise Tan, dressed up as British aristocracy, told her non-English speaking helper “tuna tuna” and looked at the audience with “She gets quite mad when I talk about tuna!”
Not only was the script well written, but the many references to the present made the show all the more fresh. For instance when the rick-shaw owner wouldn’t offer a ride and shouted out “change shift, change shift”, or when the dollies were dressed up as Samsui women singing Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” while hugging a giant exercise ball (and sticking their tongues out!).
Also the creative way that the different historic events were thought out worked well, whether it being the five spices discussing trade or the four beauty queens discussing country borders. And of course, there were also the subtle references to a recently deceased leader – when the Dollies dressed in white sang, but never mentioned ‘his’ name. Instead, they sang the words “sensitve-lee”, “luckil-lee”, “eternal-lee” – they even sing that he’s good at playing “Monopo-lee”!
For a foreigner, it was refreshing to see Singaporeans laugh at them themselves (while of course also making fun of us Caucasians, Indians and Malays), and to hear so much irony and subtle references in the name of comedy. My husband and I probably only understood 80 percent of the show, but that was plenty to make us sit tight throughout.
My short impression from the night before had been unfair. This two-hour performance flew by. I learned so much, laughed so hard and got to know a Singaporean piece of culture that was both surprising, entertaining and impressive. Thank God for a bossy Editor who wouldn’t take no for an answer! And thank you for a great night out in your company, Dim Sum Dollies.
Watch the segment on the Samsui Women here:
Dim Sum Dollies: The History of Singapore Part 1 will run at The Esplanade Theatre until June 21. Tickets from S$48 to S$148 are available at SISTIC.
Asia 361 is giving away a pair of tickets to watch Dim Sum Dollies – The History of Singapore Part 1! To win, simply follow the following steps:
- Leave a comment below or on our Facebook post on why you want to watch Dim Sum Dollies.
- Share this post on Facebook and tag up to 3 friends on your post.
Contest ends this Friday 12 June 2015 at 12.00 pm. Winners will be notified via Facebook and/or email, and must be able to provide full name, NRIC and contact details on 12 June 2015, and collect the tickets on 16 June 2015.