This Army Daze 2 star wants to work on the moon

But if that doesn’t work out, he’ll be content owning a villa on a private island

The cast and creators of 'Army Daze 2'
11 May 2017

The cast and creators of 'Army Daze 2'

Photos: Tammi Tan

As National Service celebrates a milestone age this year (NS50), so does classic Singaporean comedy Army Daze, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a brand new sequel that catches up with its original characters three decades later, while introducing new ones as well.

According to writer Michael Chiang, he “did not plan the coincidence,” and says that he still might have gone on to do Army Daze 2 even if NS50 weren’t taking place at the same time.

“We were deciding if we should restage Army Daze for its 30th anniversary, but since we staged it five years ago for its 25th anniversary, we felt it was a bit too close,” explained the renowned playwright. So instead, he started penning a part two with a new storyline, and Army Daze 2 was born.

The beloved stage play catches up with Malcolm Png – now the SAF (Singapore Armed Force)’s Director of Public Affairs – and his band of NS (National Service) buddies, 30 years after their army days together. However, the circumstances of their reunion were kept tightly under wraps by both Michael and the actors at the press conference on Monday (May 8).

“There is a twist in the story that is quite exciting; all of us gasped when we read it,” teased Hossan Leong, who is back in the role of Malcolm Png once again since 2006. “There is some drama that I cannot reveal,” added Chua Enlai, who will be taking on the dual role of the philosophical Hokkien-spewing Corporal Ong (whom he also played in 2012 and 2013) and his mother Mrs. Ong.

While director Beatrice Chia-Richmond was initially considered for the role of Mrs. Ong, she opted to focus on her behind-the-scenes duties instead, and the part went to Enlai. He hinted that his double performance has something to do with the reason the five main characters are reunited, but refused to divulge anything further.

Also reprising their roles as Malcolm’s Hotel Company Platoon mates are Shane Mardjuki (as Kenny Pereira), Joshua Lim (as Teo Ah Beng) and Ebi Shankara (as Krishnamoorthi). New faces include Oon Shu An (as Brigadier General Wong, the first female Chief of Army in Singapore), Saiful Amri (as Johari Salleh), Audrey Luo (as Teo Ah Beng’s wife), Jo Tan (as feisty social media influencer), as well as a group of up-and-coming young talents (one of which, Andre Chong, plays Malcolm’s son Justin).

Read on as we speak to Michael and some of the Army Daze 2 stars about their roles, as well as where they think they will be in 30 years’ time:

Hossan Leong
11 May 2017

Hossan Leong

Tell us more about your character in Army Daze 2.
Malcolm Png has grown up, gotten married, and is now the Director of Public Affairs, but deep down, he’s still the same insecure boy who wants to prove to himself that he’s better than everyone. Then suddenly one day – boom! – his boss is a woman [Shu An’s character BG Wong], and the insecurity comes out again. On the other hand, his son, whom he desperately wants to see excel in the army, isn’t taking his NS seriously, much to his frustration.

How does it feel to be back doing Army Daze again?
You know, I was so afraid I couldn’t do it because I was supposed to do another show. When the other show fell through, I called Beatrice and said, “I’m free” and she was like, “Good, you’re in!”

What is your biggest challenge or concern about this production?
To inhabit the physicality of a colonel, his voice, his behaviour, everything. I also have to deal with the fact that I have an 18-year-old playing my son, who could actually be my son in real life. How scary is that!? (laughs)

Since this production takes place 30 years from the original, where do you hope you’ll be 30 years from now, and did you think you’d be where you are now 30 years ago?
30 years from now, I will be 78. Hopefully I’ll be enjoying my life. My wish is to carry on acting, nurturing and creating, and hopefully still being able to travel the world to see new things and enjoy new cultures.

30 years ago, I was a mess. I got kicked out of school and I thought I had no future because I couldn’t go to university. [My life at] 18 was a very scary time, and it was in the army where I discovered that I could act, and that was a turning point for me.

Chua Enlai
11 May 2017

Chua Enlai

Tell us more about your characters in Army Daze 2.
Where I play mother and son. (laughs) I was in the last two productions [as Corporal Ong], and I don’t know why I was casted in the first place! I can’t even do cheng yu (Chinese idioms)! Anyway, some of us are back, but 30 years older and we’ve gone our own ways. But why do we get reunited? Something happens. I can’t say anymore.

You’re no stranger to playing multiple characters, but would you say that there is something different or more challenging about this one?
We haven’t started rehearsals yet, so whether the two characters are totally different or completely alike is an artistic decision we’ll make further down the road. It’ll be quite funny if they’re completely alike! (laughs)

What would you say is your biggest challenge or concern about this production?
I think it’ll be a challenge – but in a good way – working with the next generation. We’re going to have some very new actors and it’ll be interesting to work with them and see how it goes.

Since this production takes place 30 years from the original, where do you hope you’ll be 30 years from now, and did you think you’d be where you are now 30 years ago?
In 30 years’ time, I will have my own island in the south pacific. When I was in Fiji a couple of weeks ago, I found out that “Lai Lai” – which is my nickname – means “small”, so there are islands called “something Lai Lai”. So there are already islands named after me in Fiji, where I will have my villa.

30 years ago, I was 8, of course I didn’t know what I was going to be, right? We all just wanted to be astronauts or work at McDonalds. I wanted to do that at the same time: to work at McDonald’s on the moon. Maybe that can happen in 30 years. (laughs)

Oon Shu An
11 May 2017

Oon Shu An

Tell us more about your character in Army Daze 2.
My character BG Wong is the first female Chief of Army in Singapore, which is bound to cause some waves. A lot of people don’t know how to react to it, because she’s a woman in that position in such a male-dominated industry.

Are you doing any special preparations for the role?
One of the things I’ll be working on is the sense of authority, gravitas and age. I also need to find out more about the chain of command in the army and how they speak by watching interviews with real-life BGs and colonels.

You recently played another military character in Yes Mdm
Yeah, I keep being in uniform! Actually, it was my dream to join the army when I was younger because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, then I grew up and realised the kind of work involved. (laughs) But I love the military.

What would you say is your biggest challenge or concern about this production?
To act my character’s age and making people believe that she’s actually someone who can lead the army.

Since this production takes place 30 years from the original, where do you hope you’ll be 30 years from now, and did you think you’d be where you are now 30 years ago?
I hope I’ll still be creating Singaporean work, working with people who are amazing at what they do, and hopefully, I’ll have created something [bigger] from [my one-woman show] #UnicornMoment. But the biggest thing is I want to be happy at 60.

Shane Mardjuki
11 May 2017

Shane Mardjuki

Tell us more about your character in Army Daze 2.
I play Kenny Pereira, who was a flamboyant, confused young man trying to find his way in Part 1. Now in Part 2, we see him mature and blossomed, and he even has his own flower-arranging business.

Are you doing any special preparations for the role?
The last two times [I played Kenny], I was adamant that I didn’t want to watch any of Army Daze’s previous adaptations, but now my homework is to watch them because I would like to see all the influences I can put into this performance.

How does it feel to be back doing Army Daze again?
It feels great! First of all, the show was really fun to do. I don’t know if other actors have told you this, but it was very difficult not to crack up on stage every night because the lines are so funny. The cast also gets along really well.

Since this production takes place 30 years from the original, where do you hope you’ll be 30 years from now, and did you think you’d be where you are now 30 years ago?
In 30 years, I’ll be 68. I hope I’ll be still alive and physically capable of doing the things I enjoy. Career-wise, I hope I can be chilling at home and just picking up work that is fun and exciting. Or I could be a full-time grandpa!

30 years ago, I was 8, and I thought I would be living the life of the guys from [80s detective drama] Miami Vice.

Michael Chiang
11 May 2017

Michael Chiang

Is there any particular reason why Army Daze 2 is a play instead of a film?
Because I write plays. (laughs) And also, films are a different commitment and investment, Everyone was also asking me if this would be a film or stage play, and I was like, let’s do one thing at a time and see how it goes.

Do you see Army Daze still being brought to life again after 30 years?
I think so. As long as we have National Service and as long as it remains a part of our fabric, Army Daze will always be a familiar part of Singapore theatre.

Since this production takes place 30 years from the original, where do you hope you’ll be 30 years from now, and did you think you’d be where you are now 30 years ago?
In 30 years, I would love if I’m still able to write and have my plays restaged [at age 91]. You can wheel me in in my little wheelchair to introduce me! (smiles and waves)

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be doing theatre 30 years ago, and to be recognised as a playwright today is quite remarkable. I was a journalist when I wrote Army Daze, and there was no such thing as playwriting back then, the Singapore theatre scene is almost non-existent. I just did it on a whim because I was foolish enough, and I didn’t know the response was going to be like that. It was the biggest surprise.

Andre Chong
11 May 2017

Andre Chong

Tell us more about your character in Army Daze 2.
Justin is basically a more developed version of [his father] Malcom, where he’s more mature and ready to take on challenges.

What would you say is your biggest challenge or concern about this production?
Just being surrounded by theatre giants is quite overwhelming because sometimes, you’re not really sure how you should behave, but it’s a big honour to be part of such a massive production. I’ll also be working on being adaptable, fast, and ready to take on any challenges they throw at us.

Are you doing any special preparations for the role?
I’m going to shave my head bald for the role, which is something I’ve done before, but not for a production of this scale. I’ll also going to read up on army expectations and National Service because I haven’t served yet.

Which of your senior co-stars would you say you’re closest to and even see as a mentor?
Ebi Shankara. I’ve known him for years and he’s always been very supportive. His humility and energy inspires me, and I appreciate the fact that he has a lot of trust in the youth arts.

The cast members of 'Army Daze' introduce their characters one by one
11 May 2017

The cast members of 'Army Daze' introduce their characters one by one

Audrey Luo introduces her character at the press conference
11 May 2017

Audrey Luo introduces her character at the press conference

Jo Tan hosted the press conference in character as a social media #influencer
11 May 2017

Jo Tan hosted the press conference in character as a social media #influencer

The cast presented a short segment in character at the press conference
11 May 2017

The cast presented a short segment in character at the press conference

The creative team behind 'Army Daze 2'
11 May 2017

The creative team behind 'Army Daze 2'

Writer Michael Chiang, director Beatrice Chia-Richmond, composer Don Richmond and producer Annie Pek

The new recruits will be played by a quartet of up-and-coming young actors
11 May 2017

The new recruits will be played by a quartet of up-and-coming young actors

Army Daze 2 show details
Date: August 4 – 20, 2017
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Showtimes: 8pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 3pm (Saturday and Sundays)
Tickets are priced from $43 to $98 (excludes booking fees) and are available on SISTIC.

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