The recent release of Ah Boys to Men II has done a good job of resurrecting awareness around the theme of young Singaporean boys coming of age during their time in National Service. However, all the way back in 1987, Michael Chiang’s Army Daze was the first truly original and ground-breaking script to examine the lives of adolescents going through basic military training.
Army Daze is a touching comedy that follows the story of five young men as they go through National Service; written so that any Singaporean can find elements of their own truths in the antics of Malcolm, Ah Beng, Johari, Krishna and Kenny. It’s a tale that has really stood the test of time, too – first published as a book in 1985, it became a bestseller and spurred the development of the first full-length stage play in 1987, which featured 18 sold out shows. Returning for three major runs between 1990 and 2006, it was revamped last year for a fourth run to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and proved once again so popular that it’s back for a 2013 run!
The latest version of the production has been injected with both a star cast and a musical element, as it will feature original songs composed by songwriter-producer Don Richmond. Directed by Beatrice Chia-Richmond and produced by Annie Peck, this production brings with it an exciting new combination of fresh blood alongside well-known actors – expect to spot some of Singapore’s better known TV faces such as Dennis Chew from Aunty Lucy, and the cheeky-faced Chua Enlai from the anarchic satire show The Noose.
The story remains one that is both simple and effective. Five main characters, all with individual characteristics and personalities, are thrown together in the high-pressure new reality of Basic Military Training. Through the silly antics, it’s possible to recognize a whole host of Singaporean stereotypes – a diverse yet familiar group of characters allow us to laugh at ourselves while perhaps questioning the way we respond to each other.
Chiang is currently enjoying a period of success with both the re-running of Army Daze and the showing of his latest new work, High Class. Based on the tradition of romantic comedies back in the 1950s and 60s, he examines the tradition of young women running rings around each other in order to snabble the most eligible husband, set in present-day Singapore and casting a teasing light on the tai-tai stereotype. Unlike fellow playwright Alfian Sa’at’s more provocative and aggressive style of engaging with an audience, Chiang has a subtler way of getting his viewers to think about things differently. The format for High Class is similar to Army Daze in the way it unfolds through five main and distinctive characters, and uses wry humour and shrewd observations to pick out the different types of recognizable characters in Singaporean society. You might also spot a few familiar faces such as Shane Mardjuki, Ebi Shankara and Andrew Lua, who will finish their run with High Class and jump straight into their roles in Army Daze.
For those of you who have not yet caught Michael Chiang’s work in action, we at City Nomads highly recommend going to watch Army Daze. Whether you’re Singaporean with past experience of National Service, or from overseas and just intrigued as to what goes on behind all the green uniforms, you’re in for a comedic treat.
Army Daze will run from the 19th -28th July 2013. With an 8pm show Tuesday – Friday. On Saturday, 3pm & 8pm and a Sunday Matinee at 5pm. Tickets start at $72. You can buy your tickets at SISTIC