Some scatty remarks by Ken Lyen
This year's Chestnuts is one of the best I've seen. And I've been attending every one of them for the past eight years. The brainchild of Jonathan Lim, Chestnuts is a no-holds barred satirical onslaught on the arts, movies, and politics, that have taken place in Singapore over the past 12 months. It is a breath of fresh air to vent an otherwise musty conservative society, one that cannot embrace criticisms, let alone elephant or peanut jokes.
Chestnuts is the Singapore equivalent of the American spoof shows, Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood. Personally I prefer Chestnuts to the American shows because it manipulates the original material to greater effect, and because it is also an outstanding social commentary. Moreover, for Singaporeans who are always looking for bargains, let us compare the two: Forbidden Broadway/Hollywood has only a solitary piano accompaniment, whereas Chestnuts has full multimedia orchestral backup, stunning sound effects, clever video and computer projections onto the wall behind, more costume changes, and more jokes per minute. It is truly value for money. And it is a great Singapore original!
This year, all the material is new. The episodes that I found most hilarious are the running gags about the films Star Wars and The Maid, and the musicals Rent and Lao Jiu. Many of the jokes are best appreciated if one had seen these shows, and if one understood local dialects. For example, the proposed title of the film sequel of Lao Jiu by the Japanese director of the horror film Dark Water, is Lao Jui. This brought the house down because it is a pun, meaning leaking water.
Last year was Hossan Leong's first encounter with Chestnuts, and he was not quite so well integrated with the material. This year, he was much better synchronized with Jonathan Lim. Both acted with aplomb and complemented each other perfectly. The costumes have improved over the years, as has the projected computer graphics. The music is specially arranged for the show, and Bang Wenfu has managed to bring out the humour brilliantly. Darren Ng is the sound designer, and by plunging us into the myriad worlds of imagination, he enhanced our aural gratification. Even the program notes are a scream. As usual, I found myself laughing so much that my stomach hurt.
Some might find the humour of Chestnuts to be crude, smutty, and offensive. It pushes the envelope of our tolerance of indecency. It forces us to laugh at ourselves, and punctures our sanctimonious arrogance. This is good medicine for us.
Don't worry, Jonathan, I applaud your courage. Carry on the good work, and I promise to visit you when you get incarcerated.
10 December 2005