This Way! No, That Way! The Search for the Magic Paintbrush (A Review of the 2016 I Theatre Production)

When Singapore girl Toni Lee makes a wish, little does she know that her dreams can come true! The 10-year-old travels back to ancient China, and becomes the poor painter Ma Liang, who is presented with a special gift by the Spirit of Creation. Anything Ma Liang paints can come to life! And he uses this gift to provide for the poor and the under-privileged. But what happens when the tyrannical Emperor finds out? Will this spell the end of Ma Liang and the Magic Paintbrush?
"If only.... " A Singapore girl faces her dreaded exams; and her parents don't seem to understand how she feels.

I Theatre's last production of the year, the Magic Paintbrush, is a theatrical work of genius. The first time the play was run was in 2000, and the musical generated so much hype it was made into a book by publisher Marshall Cavendish. The 2016 version stole the hearts of the audience from the get-go. With powerful songs put together by the I Theatre music trio of Kenneth Lyen, Bang Wenfu and Sara Wee, the show was a sizzling success. The song 'Reaching", for instance, sung by the lead Ma Liang (played by Jodi Chan), struck an emotional chord with its soulful melody and pensive lyrics. But it was the delightful phoenix Madam Hoang (played by Amanda Tee), whose enchanting voice resounded throughout the theatre. 

The village comes alive in a spectacular delight of song and dance!

Artistic Director Brian Seward, who wrote the play, created characters larger than life. From the narcissistic emperor (splendidly depicted by Tan Shou Chen), to the comic imperial guards Sotong and Shrimp (daftly brought to life by Ebi Shankara and Darren Guo), the dramatisation was of the very best. One could almost get into the shoes of the characters, and empathise with their struggles and successes.

"This way?" "No, that way!" Comic relief by Ebi Shankara and Darren Guo, who play the
fumbling imperial guards Shrimp and Sotong.
The I Theatre production also scored an "A" in the use of props and puppetry. Madam Hoang and Phoenix and Chicken, were specially created for the production; and the use of black light theatre at the end is always a delight for audiences young and old. Parenting on Purpose understands that even though there were only 9 actors, there were 25 different costumes, and each actor had to change costumes up to 10 times during the play! In addition, creating the backdrop was no easy feat. The scenery took six weeks to build, and two days to install in the theatre! But the results were spectacular; from the Maoist-like images of the Emperor, to the surreal and peaceful village scenes, and finally to the set of the golden boat amidst the towering ocean waves - The Magic Paintbrush was a wonderful work of theatrical magic!

The delightful backdrops were an eye-turner. I Theatre truly outdid themselves with this endeavour!

However no I Theatre production is complete without a set of values imbued in the story. Seward is ultimately a teacher at heart, and he tells Parenting on Purpose that there is always a desire to "raise questions more than present answers". Seward insists that true learning can only occur if the audience answers the questions themselves. What then is the moral of the story? From this writer's perspective, the play is a social commentary highlighting that success should not solely be determined by one's grades; and that there is no end to striving for things that have material value. Instead, virtues such as kindness and generosity should be pursued, for these are the things that make a difference for the world around us. 

An outstanding performance by the cast of The Magic Paintbrush.

I Theatre has ended its 2016 run of plays, and the 2017 season begins its run with the popular The Ant and the Grasshopper. Parenting on Purpose will bring you details of the plays. Watch this space for more!

1 comment:

  1. The synopsis is interesting. I am sure the play also meets the expectation. Nice one.


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