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Speak easy: Theatre company Pangdemonium takes on Chinglish

It has been quite a “transformative” year for theatre group Pangdemonium, thanks to its Transformation Trilogy season for 2015, which began with Circle Mirror Transformation in January and Tribes in May. This week, the circle will be completed with the company’s first-ever bilingual play.

It has been quite a “transformative” year for theatre group Pangdemonium, thanks to its Transformation Trilogy season for 2015, which began with Circle Mirror Transformation in January and Tribes in May. This week, the circle will be completed with the company’s first-ever bilingual play.

Titled Chinglish, it is written by the award-winning David Henry Hwang, who is best-known for his play M Butterfly, for which he won a Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, the John Gassner Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

In Chinglish, Hwang once again tells the tale of an American businessman, Daniel Cavanaugh (played by Daniel Jenkins, who also featured in previous Pangdemonium offerings such as Dealer’s Choice, Swimming With Sharks and Circle Mirror Transformation), who travels to China to seal a lucrative deal and soon realises that much more than language gets lost in translation. Jenkins will be joined by other theatre notables Oon Shu An, Audrey Luo, Matt Grey and Adrian Pang.

Much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Cavanaugh meets some colourful characters along the way, such as a gorgeous femme fatale (Ong) and a three-faced politician, Cultural Minister Cai Guoliang (Pang), as well as a series of increasingly incompetent interpreters. Pang described the comedy, which will be performed in English and Mandarin (with English subtitles), as “topical and timely”.

“The world has been queuing up to do trade with China for years, and this play takes an insightful and fascinating look into the complex, and sometimes confusing, business relations —and the notion of ‘guanxi’ — between China and the rest of the world,” said Pang.

“It is an insightful look at how both the West and China view each other and the complexities of doing business together,” added Pangdemonium’s co-artistic director Tracie Pang, who will also be directing the play — the first time she is helming a bilingual play.

“David Henry Hwang is a great voice for Asians in the world of theatre and it was time that Pangdemonium produced one of his plays where the drama is rich and the comedy even richer,” she said, when asked why Pangdemonium decided to tackle one of Hwang’s plays.

A play that pokes fun at the West’s frenetic flirtation with China will definitely appeal to the local audience as well, added Adrian. “With the influx of China nationals here and the spectrum of feelings that has been evoked, and also the impact that China’s recent currency crash has had on the world, including Singapore, Chinglish is all the more relevant to Singapore audiences.”

The play will also feature someone who might resonate with a majority of Singaporean audiences or, at least, fans of Channel 8 programmes: Familiar MediaCorp TV personality Guo Liang.

The actor and presenter, who won a Best Supporting Actor Star Award last year for his role in The Dream Makers, is making his theatrical debut in Singapore.

Guo, who described the script as “exciting”, said the play makes people contemplate the difficulty in human communications through humour.

“It is an outstanding piece in every area possible,” said Guo.

But even as the company prepares for its latest production, Pangdemonium is already looking forward to next year’s programme, dubbed Season Of Love, with three productions that capture the idea of love “in all its eccentric, exhilarating and colourful forms, promising unforgettable stories with lots of heart, soul, and food for thought”, it said in a media release.

Season Of Love kicks off next February with the award-winning psycho-romantic comedy-drama The Effect, which examines romance, passion, lust and deconstructs the meaning of love itself, followed by an exploration of unconditional love in the family drama Falling, before ending with a run of Rent, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year.

Chinglish runs from Oct 9 to 25 at Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets from SISTIC. For more details, visit http://pangdemonium.com/productions/chinglish

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