The cast and crew of 'High Class'. Photo: Zaki Jufri
When we asked acclaimed playwright Michael Chiang, who brought us ‘Army Daze’, ‘Beauty World’ and ‘Private Parts’, how he felt about writing his first script in 14 years, he replied: “It was very unnerving.”
“I was afraid that nothing would come out,” Chiang quips.
But his fears were quite unfounded, as his new play ‘High Class’ shows.
On at the Drama Centre Theatre for a ten-day run starting 5 July 2013, this play pokes fun at the tai-tai, or the Singaporean socialite.
“Tai-tais are something that we all recognize and joke about, but have never really been featured in a local play. So I decided to write about them,” Chiang tells inSing.com. “When I first started on the script in January, I was thinking about what I could do with the tai-tai to make the story interesting. As I’m into pop culture, I decided to incorporate some things that we’re very familiar with: reality television and talk shows.”
‘High Class’ is Chiang’s first dramatic work in 14 years and it centres around a tai-tai (played by Nikki Muller) who decides to groom tai-tai wannabes on a television show. But instead of gorgeous beauties, she ends up mentoring a motley crew of five women — from a cosmetic surgeon (Kimberly Chan) and a school teacher (Siti Khalijah) to a dengue-control inspector (Elizabeth Lazan). Also acting in the play are Andrew Lua, Shane Mardjuki and Audrey Luo among others.
Chiang readily admits that he is recycling the format of ‘Army Daze’ for this production. “We had five recruits in ‘Army Daze’, and in ‘High Class’ there are five women contestants. I used various elements that have worked for me previously so that I wouldn’t feel too out of my depth with this play. And, yes, I sort of ‘cheated’ a bit,” Chiang says with a chuckle.
If you’re familiar with Chiang’s earlier works, you will notice that nostalgia also seems to be a running theme and ‘High Class’ is no different. He is inspired by the romantic-comedies of the 1950s and ’60s: “I wanted to capture the innocence of the rom-coms from that era where there’s always a young girl yearning for a rich husband. I want to transplant that idea into modern-day Singapore and then merge that into a reality show format.”
Making her theatre debut is TV host Nikki Muller who will play the leading role of a Singapore’s self-proclaimed number one tai-tai, Alexis Lee. To prepare for her role, the 27-year old artiste hung out with real-life tai-tais and found it easy to connect. “I just can’t believe how warm and outgoing most of them are once you get to know them. What really surprised me also, was how they pack so many activities in a single day — they really do everything!” Muller exclaims.
Muller is hoping that the play will shed new light and do away with misconceptions about socialites. “I believe that he (Chiang) will make people laugh, but at the same time let people really see and move beyond their pre-conceived notions of what a tai-tai really is,” Muller says.
According to Chiang, Muller was a gem of a find. “When we had not yet cast the lead role even after I had finished writing the script, I was very panicky. There were a few choices for the lead, but Beatrice (Chia, the director) recommended Nikki and we called her in. Nikki came to the audition dressed up as a tai-tai,” Chiang recalls.
“Initially, I thought that she was too young for the role but when she started reading her lines, I said, ‘This is it. I’ve got my tai-tai’,” he adds.
Acting opposite Muller as her millionaire ex-husband Draycott Lee is Andrew Lua.
“My character is essentially the ‘moneybags’ that all ladies need if they want to be a tai-tai,” the actor describes jokingly.
This will be the second time Lua is working with Michael Chiang. Lua acted in last year’s restaging of ‘Army Daze’ as LTA Heng and will reprise the role again when the popular production goes for a second run this August.
“Chiang’s writing is always very witty and very relatable because it’s all about relationships. I think that’s what Michael does best. I’m very sure everyone will love ‘High Class’.”
Michael Chiang’s ‘High Class’ | Dates and times: 5-14 July; Tue-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3pm, 8pm; Sun, 5pm | Venue: Drama Centre Theatre, #05-01 National Library Building, 100 Victoria St. | Tickets: $42-$79