Feature

Upstaged by village people... and animals

By Jo TanEvents - 12 June 2014 9:00 AM | Updated 17 June 2014

Upstaged by village people... and animals

Actress-director Felix Hung is nervous about directing a children's production. 

This, even though she is the resident artist of esteemed theatre company The Theatre Practice and has won artistic acclaim in Singapore, Taiwan and her native Hong Kong.

She explained in Mandarin: “This performance of ‘Nini in Changi Village’ is based on a book about all the little details of being a child in Changi Village during the 1950s (in Singapore). It's very local. 

“When I got the edict from (Kuo Jianhong, artistic director of The Theatre Practice) to direct this piece, I was verynervous. I've been in Singapore for years, but I'm not born here after all. There's some degree of separation between me and Singapore, and I've never lived in Changi!”

Playing at LASALLE College of the Arts from 26 June to 6 July, ‘Nini in Changi Village’ is one of two children's productions to be staged at the Chinese Theatre Festival, with the other being an acclaimed puppet performance from Taiwan called ‘Mo Gu Notes’ (9-13 July | Creative Cube, LASALLE College of the Arts | $28 ). 

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2014 Chinese Theatre Festival poster

BEACH BABIES 

Adapted from a 2013 comic book by Singaporean Fanny Lai – a former group chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore – 'Nini in Changi Village' adapts Lai's stories for the stage, by creatively using seemingly simple items to evoke an idyllic kampong childhood.

This plays, in part, to the overarching festival motto to use unassuming spaces and things in breeding big imaginations.

In the book, other than Lai’s adorable, self-illustrated autobiographical anecdotes of growing up in Changi's seaside village as Nini, there are also tropical animals which are Nini’s crew of childhood camponions, such as Polah the bear and Ah Heng the orangutan.

Director Hung said: “We decided to use the book's elements and characters to create one continuous story, something which is more suitable for this type of production, and Fanny has been very open to it. Our main aim is to take the characters off the page, and make them into living, breathing, 3D beings.

“But to tell their story properly, we need to do a lot of research. 

“We've got lots of articles and old photographs, but even then, people in a rehearsal room can only imagine, and not feel, what it's like to be in Nini's seaside village. So we've also arranged excursions to Changi Village, as well as the last kampung (village) in Singapore. When you step on the Changi sand, the feeling is different from reading about it in an article, even if most of it is no longer 1950s sand!” 

Hung's emphasis on getting the right “feel” for her work, where others might have taken less care and more creative licence, was her own greatest challenge.

“I kept thinking, this is so much about Singapore, how can I direct it as a Hong Konger? I live in western Singapore, so I almost never go to Changi.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGINATION

But one time, after lots of research work and still lacking the confidence that she has captured the essence of Nini, she decided to take the picture book with her for a read while strolling along the beach.

“It was then that I realised, ‘Hey, Nini and I, we're not so different’. Yes, one is born in a Singapore kampung and one in Hong Kong city. But the things we did as kids, how we played, they're the same. We both threw together odds and ends to create our own imaginary worlds. She ran around her village, I ran around my apartment blocks. But the worlds in the imaginations of these two children, they're very similar.” 

Growing up more than 30 years ago as part of a large, not-so-well-to-do family, Hung considers that the imagination and experiences of today's children might not be as stretched as hers used to be.

“I think kids nowadays see the world through their fingers: iPads, iPhones, TV remote controls. If we didn't have these things, we would realise the world is much bigger than the distance we can swipe on a touchscreen.”

A CHICKEN IN THE ZOO 

The vocal and vivacious Hung added: “I've never lived in a kampung, but neither have almost all Singaporeans below a certain age, because Singapore changes so fast. 

“I remember, for my virgin visit to the Singapore Zoo, the very first animal I saw was a chicken strutting around.  I burst out laughing, thinking, is it really so tragic in Singapore that you have to put a live chicken in the Singapore Zoo before locals can see one? I thought, at least I had chances to see live chickens outside the zoo, despite growing up in the city.” 

Accordingly, she aims to use the stage version of ‘Nini’to exercise young imaginations.

“The nature of theatre is using creativity, to provide a place for people to use their imaginations and take them into a bigger world. I won't reveal exactly what now, but I hope to use interactive elements in the play to help children open up their worldview and imaginations.... wow, it sounds very ambitious when I say it like that!” she said, laughing. 

Turning thoughtful, she added: “I've directed my own shows before, but there is definitely a difference directing children's theatre. For adults you might have shows where the function is more to analyse, or challenge. 

“But I think for children's theatre, the biggest function is inspiration and encouragement, to help them go out bravely into the world. They have 70-plus years of experiences waiting ahead. I hope they take some sunshine out of the theatre to accompany them on that road.” 

Other shows in the Chinese Theatre include ‘The Mark Behind The Ear’ (26-29 June | Creative Cube | $38), a semi-autobiographical performance by artiste Marley Ho, and a multi-disciplinary experimental theatre performance, ‘Fluid’ (3-13 July | Flexible Performance Space | $38) by playwright Liu Xiaoyi, all at LASALLE College of the Arts. 

‘Nini in Changi Village’ | Date: 26 June – 6 July 2014 | Time: 10am & 3pm (Tue & Wed); 10am, 3pm & 7pm (Thu), 7pm (Fri), 11am & 2pm (Sat & Sun) | Venue: Singapore Airlines Theatre, Basement 1, LASALLE College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street

Nini in Changi Village《樟宜村姑妮妮》

Nini in Changi Village《樟宜村姑妮妮》

Date Jun 26, 2014 - Jul 06, 2014

VenueLASALLE College Of The Arts

Ticket PriceS$14.00 - S$28.00
 (excludes booking fee)