Adrian Pang: First Mandarin stage role more stressful than playing Lee Kuan Yew

The actor admits that his latest project 'Chinglish' (which is also veteran host Guo Liang's theatre debut) has been giving him nightmares

Pangdemonium's Chinglish

Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Tan Shi Qi

Adrian Pang didn't even need to hesitate for a second when we posed him this question: was it more daunting playing Singapore’s founding father Mr. Lee Kuan Yew in The LKY Musical, or gearing up to speak Mandarin on stage for the first time in upcoming play Chinglish?

He chose the latter without missing a beat. “Chinglish has been giving me nightmares – I’ve started to dream in Mandarin!” he said with a laugh during an interview with Toggle on Monday. “The LKY musical was really tough, but speaking Mandarin on stage is definitely [worse].”

In the Pangdemonium adaptation of the award-winning Broadway production, the former MediaCorp artiste plays a politician from Mainland China. This presented an even bigger challenge for Adrian, who was based in the UK for a few years and has never exactly been renowned for his fluency in the language, despite starring in numerous Channel 8 dramas.

“I’ve had to unlearn all the wrong Mandarin I’ve been speaking all these years which, at best, could pass off as Singapore style Mandarin,” he told us. “I need to speak it properly for the first time in my life, and it’s really tiring and it gives me a headache every time I’m rehearsing!”

The complicated tongue twisters Audrey Luo, his Chinglish co-star and on-set Mandarin coach, has been giving him, such as the famous Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (with 92 "shi" characters in varying tones), haven't really been helping either, he admitted. “But I'm not making excuses, this is my problem,” Adrian emphasised. “It’s my retribution for not learning Mandarin properly all those years ago and for torturing my Chinese teachers.”

So why take on a part with so many difficulties in the first place when he could easily give it to another actor?

My angmoh wife [and Pangdemonium co-artistic director Tracie], who obviously has no conception of how bad my Mandarin is, assumed I was going to play the role, so what to do? I have to listen to her, she’s the boss,” he shrugged, before adding on a more serious note, “It's good to be able to find a new challenge in every role that I do – if it’s scary, then it’s worth doing. So I’m quite glad that my boss forced me into this. (laughs)”

However, don’t take this as a sign that Adrian will return to Chinese television dramas. “I've put those days behind me. [Theatre] is my life now and although it is frustrating at times, I absolutely love it.” But if producers are still extremely keen to have him back on a Channel 8 show, an extremely fat pay cheque might just do the trick. But just how much, exactly? “A lot lah! (laughs)”


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