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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

SIDDHARTA – A NEW AGE OPERA (article first published : 2002-07-13)

Only in Durban for three performances, but promising to be back, was Siddharta: a New Age Opera presented by Full Moon Productions and produced by Musical On Stage Productions. In Mandarin with English surtitles this is a spectacular musical production produced by some of the best music, television and theatre talents from Malaysia.

This beautiful and immaculately presented top class show with a production team of 60 including 40 actors and dancers has played to sell-out audiences in Johannesburg and Durban and now heads for the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town.

Supported in its South African tour by the Temple Nan Nua in Bronkhorstspruit and the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order in South Africa, Siddharta is one of the most stunningly visual and dramatic shows to have appeared on the Playhouse Opera stage for a long time. Sound balances were excellent and the lighting design superb. Orchestration was skilful and the original music reminiscent of the best of Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and Schönberg.

The creative power lies in the hands of diminutive director Ho Lin Huay and her vision is explained when you discover that she has a degree in motion picture and theatre production and is also an award-winning music video director. She makes truly beautiful pictures around the central figure of Prince Siddharta/the Buddha, played by Yang Wel Han in an intensely moving, luminous and dignified portrayal. While he maintains a fairly inscrutable demeanour, we experience his pain at the sight of so much suffering and death in his land as well as his frustration in seeking the enlightenment which at first evades him.

Other accolades must go to Chew Paul Way as Princess Yasodhana who also opens the show as the lead singer of the Prologue. As the Prince’s father King Suddhartha, Teoh Kee Hock is impressive as a man who resists his son’s choice to follow the path of Enlightenment. Christopher Lay Seng Pen is a delightful Chandaka (Siddharta’s servant) doubling as the evil Devadatta who challenges the Buddha’s position.

Skilful use of visuals played onto scrim included an elephant heralding the Queen’s conception and a dramatic scene where Devadatta is destroyed by the elements.

The company uses every facet of this magnificent and versatile theatre venue: shining confetti falls onto the audience from the ceiling; the trapdoors came into use and innumerable pieces of scenery seemed to descend from the flies.

Siddharta tells a time-honoured story with sincerity, grace and charm. Buddhism follows the principles of truth, tolerance and an uncluttered mindset rather than paying homage to a godlike figure. The production does not aim to preach religion or dogma but at the end of the show you emerge feeling that you have been entertained at the highest level while undergoing a calming and emotive experience. Please come back soon, Siddharta. South Africa needs your cleansing energy. – Caroline Smart




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