People have always been curious about the obscenely rich. You only have to take a casual glance at the newsstands to see the proliferation of celebrity and high-society magazines. This strange fascination was what inspired Michael Chiang’s first play in 14 years, High Class.
The story revolves around newly-divorced tai-tai Alexis Li (played by Nikki Muller), a sassy and confident ex-TV personality who sets out to create her own reality show to groom five tai-tai’s. However, instead of being presented with sophisticated debutants from District 10 neighbourhoods, Alexis got sabotaged and ended up with a motley crew of five misfits. The mastermind behind the treachery? Her former best friend, Siobhan, whom her ex-husband started an affair with.
Similar to Chiang’s previous hit play Army Daze, the five finalists are a quirky cross-section of Singapore’s society. Meng Yee (Serena Ho) is a tomboyish real estate agent, Azizah (Siti Khalijah) is the bubbly schoolteacher from Jurong, Janine (Mina Kaye) is the airheaded beauty queen, Ye Feng (Audrey Luo) is the TCM physician hailing from Beijing and finally there’s Sunita, a dengue inspector working with the NEA. Special mention has to go to Jo Tan, who plays the role of good-natured Sunita. The role was originally supposed to be played by Elizabeth Lazan but she came down with dengue a few days before the first run (yes, life and its many ironies) so Tan had to step in and prepare for the role within 48 hours. It was an insurmountable task, and she pulled it off with aplomb.
If for some reason, you only stayed to watch the first half of High Class, you may walk away thinking it’s a thinly-plotted play that gave you a couple of laughs. However, the heart and soul of the play comes alive in the second half of the play when the characters emerge from their shallow stereotypes and the audience start to learn the back stories of these women, including Alexis. Behind her dazzling diamonds and Herve Leger dresses, is a surprisingly warm and big-hearted individual. Muller’s large, expressive eyes has a way of drawing you in and as her very human emotions and problems reveal themselves, you start to root for her in a way you may not have in the first 45 minutes.
While the play could have done with tighter pacing, the campy, over-the-top acting of the cast had the audience in stitches from start to finish. Don’t expect high-brow, dry humour here though. This is the slapstick, almost goofy brand of humour favoured by local audiences. But beyond the zany script, the storyline does throw up a more somber talking point, namely: Do modern women still aspire to nothing more than marrying a rich man?
High Class is currently playing till 14 July at the Drama Centre. Get your tickets at Sistic now.
Note: The author was invited to review High Class by Running Into The Sun. All opinions are the author’s own.
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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