The Kanjoos is a play in English adapted from Moliere’s famous French comedy, The Miser. The Miser is a comedy of manners about a rich moneylender named Harpagon and his feisty children who long to escape from his penny-pinching household and marry their respective lovers. The Kanjoos follows suit but with a cultural twist. The cast is inter-culturally mixed with Asian and Western aspects thrown in a local setting and the tale is flavoured with a Singaporean-owned ‘Kiasu-ism’.
Subin Subaiah plays the lead charactorKanjooswamy, and he is also the scriptwriter of this start-to-end hilarious stage comedy. He truly has revived the aged satirical comedy to life in a Comedie Francaise-cum-Bollywood fashion.
British actor Simon Wong plays the role of Victor, who will do everything in his power to bring Kanjooswamy downhill and take the hand of his lover Priya, daughter of Kanjooswamy who is being betrothed to a rich businessman for the purpose of expanding Kanjooswamy’s wealth.
Simon commented in an email interview conducted by us: “Having grown up in the UK and being aware of the wide range of accents and UK peoples, it was challenging as an actor to decide what Victor’s heritage should be like as he plays is a Cambridge educated adopted orphan who is the Chinese assistant to Kanjooswamy.”
Daisy Irani, plays Jayalolita who plays the match maker with vicious plans up her saree sleeves. She is not a stranger to the local art scene. From TV to stage, Daisy has given us the hit sitcom Under One Roof and with hubby Subin stagedRafta Rafta and The Prisioner of Mumbai Mansion. So you can be sure, you’re in for a rollercoaster ride of laughter, mayhem and pure unadulterated fun.
We had the privilege to interview Subin and Simon. Find out what they have to say.
British Council:Tell us a bit more about Kanjooswamy?
Subin:Oh he is a cranky, cynical, constipated old codger who doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about anything except the accumulation of wealth. Pretty much a caricature epitomising the disease of materialism which is a common phenomenon in modern society. He is the poster child for ungraciousness and is beyond the redemption of any religious order or of any medical science.
British Council: What do you and your character have in common?
Subin: He is kind of the ying to my yang. But there are moments when I detect streaks of pessimism, suspicion and the occasional disbelief in the fundamental goodness of mankind in him that remind me of myself. But I have to confess that his eye for the beautiful, over-18, lass is a characteristic I can absolutely jive with.
British Council: Why did you choose to set this play on Serangoon Road in a Comedie Francaise/Bollywood fashion?
Subin: Interesting question. First of all we wanted to establish that Moliere’s depiction of miserliness and greed was not typical of up-scale rich neighbourhoods. Behind the seemingly working class bustle of Serangoon Road is a swathe of traders, jewellers and money lenders who could be just as infected. Also, there can be no better place to put a man named Kanjooswamy! As for the treatment of the play there has always been a commonality between old French farce and Bollywood — there is a certain blend of mayhem and cheesiness that is just so appealing.
British Council: What importance does it give to the play in terms of having a multi-racial cast? Was it a creative call or a move to celebrate Singapore as a multi-racial nation?
Subin: We love doing plays which allow for a multi-racial cast. This one absolutely did. There is a lovely Singaporean energy to it.
British Council:How can you help to develop the Singapore arts scene?
Subin: Just presenting a new perspective of theatre to audiences here is the trick. Our mantra is to take interesting scripts, modify them to adapt a Singaporean context and then present them in an entertaining fashion. The first two productions of Rafta Rafta and Prisoner of Mumbai Mansion were well-acclaimed examples of that strategy.
British Council: What’s your favourite part about being on stage?
Simon: The chemistry that ultimately develops with other cast members, and being able to bring that into our roles, have fun with the roles and see the audience loving what they see – that’s really fulfilling.
British Council: What do you and your character have in common?
Simon: Subin did a great thing of giving creating this version based on the classic Valere character and built in plenty in common with myself as a British citizen in Singapore. The character Victor is brought to Singapore having fallen in love for Priya, Kanjoo’s daughter. He’s educated in Britain and is in Asia seeking a specific link to his heritage. As a British-born Chinese, and I can say this for many fellow BBCs, many of us are inevitably attracted back to Asia if not by love, then often by some kind of seeking and fascination with one’s cultural roots.
British Council: How does your British heritage influence your role in a French-adapted play?
Simon: Having grown up in the UK, and being aware of the wide range of accents and people in the UK, it was challenging to decide if Victor speaks the Queens, is he a Del Boy, or if he’s somewhere inbetween. If anything being born in and having grown up in the UK helped to add more detail to the character from accent to physicality.
British Council: What is your advice to an aspiring actor?
Simon: From my personal viewpoint, I would say if you can, lay a good foundation in something that brings a good income – having trod the boards in London for a couple of years and at some points owned just the coins in my pocket , I appreciate the fact that today I have a roof over my head from a parallel career . For me that opportunity came from partnering with a few friends (variously musicians, artists and designers) and running our own creative firm for the past decade. So the bread and butter comes not only from performing, but is well-supplemented by design projects which have over the years included the rebranding of the Asian Civilisations Museum, and the branding of the Peranakan Museum. That also means being able to be master of your own time, and being available for auditions, rehearsals and shoots while not allowing company projects to suffer. Actors in Singapore have to work doubly hard to make sure there’s a good life balance. It’s a plus when that parallel activity is also creative and something one is equally passionate about.
Be sure to make a date this May with the fabulous cast of The Kanjoos which will be staged from Thursday 10 May toSunday 13 May and Thursday 17 May to Saturday 19 May 2012 at 8.00 p.m. at the DBS Arts Centre.
Interviewed by Poovan Devasagayam and Yeoh Yong Chyuan
British Council Singapore
Friday 4 May 2012