Michael Chiang’s new play High Class ran at the Drama Centre from July 5-14 2013. The play examined the role of Tai-Tais in Singapore society. Tai-Tais are women who marry rich men and spend the rest of their lives doing leisure activities such as shopping and eating out. In High Class, Alexis (Nikki Muller) is a Tai-Tai abandoned by her husband Draycott (who has taken up with his lover Siobhan), who comes up with a reality show to groom future Tai-Tais using her huge divorce settlement. However, Draycott (Andrew Lua) and Siobhan (Kimberly Chan) hatch other plans to derail the show by making sure that the finalists are anything but Tai-Tai material.
Chiang’s script for High Class isn’t as funny as his lauded Army Daze. The humour here is more slapstick and physical. However, the performers more than held their own portraying it. From Audrey Luo’s PRC (People’s Republic of China) drawl to Siti Khalijah’s “Makcik” motherly vibe to Mina Kaye’s beautiful and self-obsessed Janine to Serena Ho playing a typical Singapore yuppie, these girls drew laughter from their first appearance to the last, notably due to their ability to bring the right amount of physical comedy into their performances.
However, Jo Tan, who portrayed Indian Singaporean Sunita Pillay, sported a weird, inconsistent accent, neither Singaporean nor Indian, pounding heavily on consonants and vowels in a way that made her voice growly. On the other hand, she was able to perform well the physically comedic parts, and despite her accent, her performance brought a lot of laughter from the house.
The standout performance was that of Nikki Muller. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore, both physically and in her acting prowess, Muller brought perfect comic timing to her funny lines and the necessary emotions when her character had to tackle the more poignant and dramatic moments, just as Moore has been able to do in her long career.
And like Moore, there’s something about Muller’s stage presence that makes her shine. Muller is funny with her infectious wide smile a la Moore, and yet not afraid to expose her delicate and intimate side too. It’s rare you find an actress able to do drama and comedy equally well, anywhere in the world, let alone in Singapore. Muller is certainly one to watch.
Don Richmond provided the music, which was a bit hit-and-miss, some tunes being memorable and some just not catchy enough.
High Class is a work more dependent on its cast than on the story per se, and the cast certainly did not disappoint and made this performance worth catching.