The History Girls
The Dim Sum Dollies score again with their latest production, The History of Singapore. In the hands of the "naughty, saucy, almost tacky" Dim Sum Dollies, the days of Temasek, Sir Stamford Raffles and separation from Malaya are rich material for hilarious songs and skits. Who would have imagined that the Integrated Resorts were first conceived by an entrepreneurial bunch of opium den, brothel and gambling den owners? Or that the swarthy pirates of the Malacca Straits ran their ship with KPIs and pay reviews somewhat similar to those of the civil service?
With their trademark sassiness, the Dollies flirted lightly with sensitive issues, combining incisive social observations with a whole lotta heart. The skit "Samsui Woman", with its lung-busting showtune, showed us what girl power is about, while "Singapore Girl" featuring the inimitable Hossan Leong as Miss Singapore was surprisingly nationalistic. The underdogs of our history received ample stage time, with rickshaw pullers and kampong ladies sharing the stage with other eminent personalities.
For the latter, most of the skits poking fun at them were pure naughtiness.
The hypothetical meeting between Mahatma Gandhi (Hossan Leong) and Mao
Zedong (Selena Tan) was completely irreverent - and totally hilarious.
In contrast, some other skits, like "LuckiLee", coyly referred
to existing political leaders in part-glowing, part-mocking ways without
ever making a clear stand. While this was an undoubtedly clever and
kiasu way to avoid lawsuits, it also underscores the extent of self-censorship
in the arts today. Dollies beware: too much of such prevaricating will
eventually take the bite out of your characteristic wit.
Hossan Leong deserves an honorary Dolly-ship for his significant contributions. In History, he practically stole the show with roles such as an effete Sang Nila Utama who prefers to "relak in a corner" than to conquer new lands, a recalcitrant convent schoolgirl, a materialistic Peranakan tai tai, and of course Miss Singapore circa 1965. This vulnerable lass, kicked out of the Miss Malaysia contest after separation, played out our nation's larger separation anxieties, and then paralleled Singapore's nation-building process as she found the strength to stage her own Miss Singapore contest. Leong's presence and comic genius infallibly lit up the stage with each appearance.
Oddly, out of the three Dollies, only Dolly Emma Yong seemed to be on top form, dishing out razzle and dazzle with enthusiastic flourish. Pam Oei wasn't really her usual chilli padi self, and creator Selena Tan seemed a little deflated (notwithstanding her self-proclaimed similarity to char siew pau).
The Dollies, guests-to-be at the upcoming National Day Parade (NDP) 07, have their manicured fingers on the pulse of society and their hearts are in the right places too. Cynics and patriots alike will laugh aloud at the infectious jokes and marvel at the timeless truths revealed through comedy. The only thing really standing between the Dollies and our oh-so-Singaporean desire for world-class acclaim is their less than fabulous showgirl skills. Comediennes and actresses the Dim Sum Dollies are; dancers they are not. While witty lines, Frederick Lee costumes and top-notch production values place the Dollies in the upper percentile of local comedy productions, their ho-hum footwork and unsynchronised routines led to otherwise fantastic skits losing their fizz towards the end, instead of climaxing with a bang each time.
Nevertheless, one could do much worse than the Dim Sum Dollies. At the end of the day, wit and substance are what engage audiences in the long term, and the Dollies have proven their mettle in this area. The Dollies have perfected their winning formula (as the Dollies might themselves say, comedy also need Formula One) and are running with it in the best possible way. Indeed, the Dollies are going from good to better, and hopefully the best.
Ratings out of 5, based on
Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent /