We see Geylang as the area of promiscuity where prostitutes, men and women alike look for le sexy time. Oh, and lets not forget that Geylang is practically the place to head to for durian-devouring sessions and good food!

However, local youth-centric theatrical production house, young & W!LD, gave audiences a fresh take on the little red dot’s popular red light district. Through a fusion of accurate, rich history married to a pinch of fiction, young & W!LD conceived the birth of Geylang.

Throwback to pre-independence Singapore. Geylang Serai is an ordinary Malay village home to straits Chinese and Malays alike, but rife with extreme traditionalism and other societal problems. While inter-marriages between the Chinese and Malays are rare, there is an ironically close friendship between the two races, and they take care of each other like best buddies.

But Geylang Serai steps into disarray when a Malay man falls in love and makes love with a Chinese girl. This catalyses the deteriorating relations between the two ethnicities.

The morbid plight and tales of the old prostitution scene are also highlighted in the play through re-enactments – an unpredictable, violent, yet comical head pimp managing his prostitutes and brothel venture, as well as the heart-wrenching stories behind why most prostitutes turn to this job. The clever mishmash of adult comedy helps to give Geylang a new perspective while evoking the audience’s sympathy, without becoming a tearjerker.

This writer however, can’t help but feel that the expletives used are unnecessarily explicit, especially during the segment of the brothel scenes. Lucidly gross details such as “f*** them till they bleed and vomit” and “f*** them in all three holes” crossed the line with us, making us queasy as members of the audience trying to appreciate the play.

Fast forward to modern day Singapore, where Matthew Fam plays a young boy who grows up living in Geylang Serai eating Mee Rebus [Chinese yellow noodles with egg in thick, spicy gravy], to an office worker in charge of chasing away his ex-neighbour to make way for the area’s commercialisation.

Geylang sheds light on Singapore’s displacement of heritage and cultural sites in a bid for commercialised buildings and amenities. The thoughts of the characters are interesting – the office worker’s struggle with intentions to preserve heritage; the Malay couple’s attachment to the old Geylang Serai; the prostitutes’ professional attitude in their job.

We also enjoy the constant, extensive use of Malay and Mandarin dialects to express the varying emotions. A colloquial touch that reflects Singapore as a society that is inclusive to other sub-cultures, while yet providing exclusivity.

On the visual side of things, this play largely impresses.

The intricately designed costumes stand out; the complex gold-red oriental pattern on the traditional Chinese cheongsam worn by cast Dawn Teo was testament to that. The smiles, frowns, different shades of anguished looks – dramatic facial expressions are made with naturalness aplomb. Even the gorgeous traditional hairdos of the female casts are worth a mention.

The cast also deserves extra points for their effort to involve the audience in the play. At one point, the ‘prostitutes’ actually came off-stage to try to convince a guy in the audience to engage their services!

However, the set design of Geylang disappoints. We had looked forward to seeing how the play would portray the olden days. All we got were a few dull, undecorated grey boxes and some tables here and there, in every scene – a noticeable disparity between the wow factor of the costumes and the set design.

That said, the play is solid as a whole. It thoroughly entertains through the use of slapstick local humour as well as elaborate acting. We walked out of the theatre understanding the very narrative behind Singapore’s scarlet vicinity after watching Geylang.


Rating: 4/5

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Geylang by young & W!LD

Directed by Rodney Oliveiro & Serena Ho

Written by Rodney Oliveiro with the Company

10 Square @ Orchard Central

Ticket pricing: $25

Photos courtesy of W!LD RICE.