Playwright Michael Chiang’s well-loved local Singlish play Army Daze got a facelift, and celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with SimplyWorks’ restaging of Army Daze which ran from August 21 to 26 at the Drama Centre.
Army Daze is about five teenagers called to serve in the army as national service, and the trials and tribulations they face, both at home and in fatigues. This time around Beatrice Chia-Richmond directed Army Daze, which saw a completely sold-out run.
Army Daze is colloquial and over-the-top melodramatic, but therein lay the fun! Dwayne Tan starred as the mummy’s boy Malcolm, Joshua Lim played the gangster Ah Beng, ex-Vasantham star Ebi Shankara played Krishna the boy filled with Indian melodrama, Shane Mardjuki portrayed the cross-dressing, wimpy, and girlish Kenny, and Adi Jamaludin breathed life into flaky girl-crazy Johari.
The play follows these boys as they go through three months of basic military training, and deals with the problems they face with the hard training and unreasonable officers in charge, as well as issues they face with their family and loved ones: Ah Beng’s disenfranchised family, Krishna’s long-distance love with Lathi (Norleena Salim), Malcolm’s coming of age, Kevin’s longing for acceptance of his sexuality by his family and society, and Johari’s need to find love and be more serious about his life. Together, while facing all these problems, the boys also build a friendship despite being so disparate in both character and background.
All five actors who played the army boys-turning-into-men gave fine performances, handling the slapstick moments as well as the scenes that called for more gravitas with aplomb and presence.
Updated with references to local infuriations such as the MRT breakdowns and how Chinese nationals who take up permanent residency here don’t need to serve national service, and with catchy songs penned by Don Richmond that had perfectly choreographed dances accompanying the music, this Army Daze was kept current and entertaining and may even be the best version staged in its 25-year history.