You know a play is going to be interesting when it already needs at least three adjectives to be summed up – ‘musical, comedy, mystery’. I am very glad to report that Now You Simi 2 did not just surpass any expectations I had of it, but completely threw me out of the water. I was one of a large number drawn to the Faith Performing Arts Center not just to support a pair of budding actors, but also by the promise of a good show. Perhaps ‘good’ would be too nondescript an adjective to describe what I watched – something even I can’t succinctly describe. Regardless of its characterisation, however, three things shone through. The wit and humour of the two-man cast, their sincere heart of service and the sheer passion they had distilled into their work.
I was surprised at the diversity of the audience around me on the play’s opening night. There were the elderly and middle-aged brushing shoulders with gaggles of teenagers and young adults toting congratulatory bouquets. They were in themselves testament to the hard work put in by the friends and supporters of the two cast members, Matthew Ryan and Kevin Wong, in bringing in a crowd. In two of the front rows were also twenty-odd guest viewers from the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home, an institution aimed at rehabilitating and integrating boys-at-risk back into society. The production manager Saad told me that they had invited these young men as a show of appreciation for one of the crew members’ mothers, who had volunteered with the organisation. Gracing the occassion as the guest-of-honour was none other than the CEO of Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore himself, Mr Keh Eng Song. Even before the play started, it was grounded in the good faith of these two young actors’ desire to use their talents to give back to the greater good.
The play itself started off riotous, cheeky and colourful. The opening scene took place during the victim’s funeral in a church, which quickly made a sharp segue into a random musical number and spoof ad placement by Watson’s. The plot rolled on, unabashedly un-self-conscious. In the bumbling-but-good-natured detective Seah Loke Hong’s (read it out quickly and see what other detective’s name it resembles) quest to uncover the murderer of bank-teller Daniel, the audience is hurtled through jokes, puns, and references as eclectic as the startling range of characters played by both actors. A Bollywood-style dance erupted during an interrogation, a gratuitous Elvis Presley-mimic leaps onto stage with a codename playing on a Korean boy band, and a conversation between Seah Loke and a High Poet (himself lampshading a certain local drag queen) progresses into an edgy Hamilton-esque rap. Of particular glee to many audience members was how the fourth wall came crashing down early into the performance. One of Seah Loke’s initial investigations even involved interviewing a member of the show’s technical crew, who proceeded to read out aloud from the show’s actual script and have a back-and-forth with the crew in the box.
That is not to say that the play was devoid of any meaningful depth whatsoever. To my surprise, the play was focused not so much on the standard police-and-thief story as it was on the development of its only constant character. Though he is often the hapless straight man to Matthew’s array of eccentric supporting characters, Kevin’s Seah Loke ultimately reveals himself to be truly, heart-warmingly, dedicated to his role. As the play takes a darker turn in the second half, he is confronted with a potential challenge to his identity, and a renewed resolve after a brief dive into his personal background. While there was still enough humour to keep the audience at ease during the play’s darker moments (special credit to Matthew for somehow making a squashed banana vanish!), it was balanced out with a sharp wit and intelligent parlaying by both characters as Seah Loke got closer to solving the case. (I shall not reveal much of the final clue save that it somehow connects Pythagoras’ Theorem, slam poetry and the gallows sensibly in the sentence.)
That said, the constraints faced by Matthew and Kevin in writing, directing and acting in their own play meant that there were certain aspects of the play that unfortunately fell short. I personally felt that there was a lack of emotional gravitas at some crucial moments in the play, and that jokes playing on the fourth wall in particular became a tad over-used later in the show. Nevertheless, the fact that they accomplished this show on such a scale is enough credit to overshadow what were otherwise minor defects. Scene changes by the volunteer crew were woven surprisingly well into the acting, with the crew even managing to create a menacing atmosphere in one scene by creeping on stage in white masks. Many of the props were also cleverly used as visual puns or simply for added comedic effect. I was especially impressed by their ‘medieval torture device’ which had been constructed in a friend’s workshop and fitted with chains.
I left the theatre feeling every bit as Matthew and Kevin had said that I would in my previous interview with them. I had no idea what I had just watched – in the best way possible. I, and many of the other audience members, must have felt immensely glad that all their hard work had paid off that night. Their acting has gone towards many good causes: the funding of their selected charities, the entertainment of friends and family, and a celebration of virtually anything you can make a punchline of.