Thursday, 18 September 2008

“I am Queen” Review

By Valerie Oliveiro, August 19, 2008, in The Urbanwire

History never looked so juicy before. The untold tale of the 50’s Cabaret Queen, Betty Yong, unravels multitudes of unscrupulous men, misfortunes and her struggle to survive. Ogled at by many; she loved the attention. Yet when sincerely loved by few, can she answer a simple question “Do you love me too?”

As black and white footage crackled to life so too did the tale of Betty Yong, the Queen of Cabaret. The old film, supported by archived news reports served well in establishing the 50’s era.

Large white panels slid about the stage; revealing characters, removing props (almost magically) and changing scenes. It was behind these moving panels that actresses Koh Wan Ching, Sia Eemien and He Le Miao swapped roles. The three actresses took on the role of Betty Yong: a highly challenging task, but well executed. The swift moving panels contributed well to smoothen the segue between interchanging roles.


Le Miao portrayed the timid and frightened young Betty who was married off to 63-year-old impotent Uncle Guang. Visuals were off the mark in this scene. Explicit, no. Racy, yes. In your face, yes. Visuals for this scene featured a wobbly 3m phallic structure that an old man (Uncle Guang, no doubt) circled. While Le Miao told of her tragic wedding night when she was groped by Uncle Guang, a large image of a hand creepily crawled down on the panel behind her.

Theme of moral decadence

Moral decadence was questioned time and time again throughout the play. Has Singapore opened its doors to moral decadence? The struggle is experienced by the few men who truly loved Betty: how can they be righteous men in society when their lover is none other than the Cabaret Queen? Angrily, Betty shouts out, “sanctimonious teacher… and myself, the epitome of sin!”


The movement in the 50’s against decadence was reiterated with old news headlines projected on the screens and a humourous chinese opera-like play called ‘Beware the Leery Wolf‘. Accompanied by the chinese drum, gong and cymbals (click to hear what they sound like), the cast transformed into a pig-tailed young girl, two hunters and a big bad wolf. The audience burst into laughter repeatedly throughout the play. It was wordless but effective.

The most haunting scene of ‘I am Queen’ was when all three actresses took the stage as Betty Yong. A dying raped Betty lay in red lights onstage while eerily singing the popular 40’s song, ‘Wo Yao Ni De Ai’. Betty, on her first day at the brothels, appears confused. Then Betty takes the stage as the Queen of Cabaret. The revisitation of these scenes all at one go, heightened by the eeriest rendition ever heard of ‘Wo Yao Ni De Ai’ made ‘I am Queen’ end with room for discussion.

What went amiss

We wanted to delve into the character of Betty Wong, not skim through it. Speaking to the audience after the show, UrbanWire found out they felt the same way. “This story is often untold. I wanted to know what struggles she goes through and how she deals with them,” shared poly student, Benjamin Lee.

On the theme of moral decadence, Tricia Yeo, mentioned that she found herself empathising with Betty’s righteous lovers. “It was a tough for her lovers to live the life of a righteous man in society by day and by night became the lover of a cabaret queen. I would have loved to see how he wrestled with his dilemma - that would have been admiring to watch.”

Our Verdict

UrbanWire gives ‘I am Queen’ 3.5 out of 5 stars for its excellent direction that captured our attention for the whole 90 minutes. The moving panels deserve an A+ in set design for its seamless movements. The trio who played Betty Yong took their character seriously and lit the stage with their fiery focus. The mini play about the wolf within the play was a comedic, light filler to the 90 minute play. Overall, well done to writers Quah Sy Ren and Liu Xiaoyi for their cleverly written lines and Wu Xi for his superb direction!

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