Lo Mio and Chiu Liet: Forbidden Love in Forbidden City
25 Feb – 6 March
Pentas 2, klpac
SIFU Production, directed by Freddy Tan
Reviewed by Yiky Chew
A careless mash of languages with a swirl of comedy sums up my impression of this original comedy adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, by SIFU Production.
The director Freddy Tan took a clear stand on the central theme of this adaptation: the central conflict arises from cultural differences, backed by language differences. This is clearly shown in the choice to cast actors of varying ethnicities, such as Gregory Sze as Lo Mio (the Romeo equivalent) and Stefanie Paulus as Chiu Liet (Juliet). Also, Tan co-wrote the script with UiHua Cheah, choosing to write in a mixture of Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
However, this interesting setup falls short in its execution. The uneven language proficiency and accents of the cast stood out like a sore thumb. It often felt as if it was the actor who struggled to speak the language, rather than the character. Prince Ba Lei (played by Dylan Yeo) was difficult to understand as he slurred and rushed through his speech, especially in Act 2. Lo Mio’s uncle Ma Wa Liu (played by William Yap) was more precise in his pronunciation but rushed nonetheless, leading to a dip in speech clarity.
As for the accent work, I had problems with some of the characters speaking in indeterminate accents. I had no problem enjoying the opening audio commentary, where a clearly non-Chinese speaking voice attempted to provide Chinese commentary (aided by subtitles), and found the joyous comedy in this ‘failure’. Or in the vocal portrayal of Master Chiu (played by Alfred Loh) where the actor tweaked the Cantonese off-key for effect. Here, I understand that the accent was done for characterisation purposes without losing the story.
But elsewhere in the production, especially as Lo Mio and Chiu Liet is about language differences, it was frustrating to have to untangle and make sense of the accents spoken in the play.
As a comedy adaptation, some interesting twists were injected into the original plot to provoke laughter. However, I do question the use of stale, crude jokes for the sake of entertainment (for example, there was a banana… and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination). I am pointing this out for the audience who seemed to have enjoyed this tired gimmick, as well as for the production team.
Chiu’s family nurse (played by Mark Beau de Silva) was a highlight of the play. Playing a female character, it was comforting that the actor did not overdo a clichéd feminine portrayal but provided a steady, economical and convincing poise. The nurse as messenger, running back and forth to pass mantao stuffed with love letters to and from Lo Mio and Chiu Liet’s residences, was one of the best moments of the play.
Another interesting element in the play was the staging. The stage is in the middle of the theatre space, splitting the audience into two sides: the House of Lo, and the House of Chiu. The audience can choose to watch from any side they prefer. The stage also extends into the audience seats on both sides, creating a cross-like formation. On each side of this extension, a raised platform was built to hold a simple set. This proximity allowed for a more intimate experience with the actors.
However, given that audiences were seated on both sides of the stage, some ensemble scenes were not well choreographed and the cast were clumped together, blocking each other from the audiences’ view or even acting towards the wall. This, I felt, was underutilising the potential of the staging.
Although lacking sharpness in its execution, Lo Mio and Chiu Liet has some interesting elements and ideas. While I would not recommend this show to someone as a means to introduce them to Shakespeare’s work, and do not expect your views to be challenged or changed by it, I have to say that it was not boring.
Images from klpac Facebook Page and SIFU Production.