Our ambassador shares her thoughts about DESCENDANTS OF THE EUNUCH ADMIRAL (2015)

Did we mention – if you love to write, why not share your experiences at Arts events on our Ambassadors’ Blog? The TheatreWorks Ambassadors Programme invites all ambassadors to share their views and thoughts of the recent Arts performances, screenings, exhibitions, presentations, talks, workshops that they have attended.

The entires on this blog are NOT reviews nor are they even attempt to be reviews, rather a personal reflection of their Arts experience. Interested to contribute? Click here.


In this first post, TheatreWorks’ ambassador, Valerie Ng, reflects on her personal experience at the recent Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral.  Read on as she shares her insights and what the performance means to her…

Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral penned by the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun in 1995, is highly regarded as a significant piece of work in the Singaporean theatrical canon. In his text, Kuo effectively harnessed a eunuch’s painful castration and the power struggles faced throughout his lifetime as a compelling metaphor of the competitive and highly structured modern day society, reflecting our sacrifices as we climb up the corporate ladder and our enslavement in a bureaucracy. On the other hand, the legendary admiral Zheng He’s many voyages to far-flung lands allegorises the rootlessness and detachment of Singaporeans from their own native culture.

Experimental director Jeff Chen’s take on this classic play as part of the Esplanade’s 2015 Studios series gives the twenty-year old classic a breath of fresh air and is a stark reminder of the play’s relevancy even up till today.

The ensemble cast remained almost speechless throughout the play, with Kuo’s text being narrated using a series of pre-recorded recordings voiced by several established and familial theatre practitioners. In a deliberate attempt to remove the power of text from the actors, the cast was reduced to executing choreographed actions that happened concurrently while the recordings were being played. Such an unconventional directorial choice pushed the boundaries of theatre, expanded on its possibility and showcased the brilliantness of Chen as a director.

The highly detailed stage actions laced with sexual inneudos, provoked bewildered and unsettled viewers, with its abstract, symbolic nature. It’s clear that there is more to them than it meets the eye. Chen’s use of such absurd imagery shocked and incited strong, gut-wrenching emotions about the text’s commentary. In one memorable scene, a semi-nude Timothy Nga was bound to a large table with balloon sculptures mimicking the male genitals while a sandbag was being dropped repeatedly, each time with increasing intensity, was carried out concurrently during a pivotal speech about castration being comforting and pleasurable. I was deeply perturbed by that scene as it reminded me of the often unnoticed, damaging effects of conforming and blindly following societal structures. 

Despite some symbols being abstract till the point of being incomprehensible, they most certainly held deeper meanings and displayed the eccentricity, sharpness as well as no holds-barred attitude of Chen’s artistic temperament. The ambiguity of the play left audiences with plenty of room for their own interpretation and is perhaps Chen’s own rebellion against the conventions of theatre and what can be served to theatre goers.

The disjointed nature of Kuo’s text allowed Chen to unleash his creative prowess and combine surrealistic visual as well as auditory means to create a cutting-edge, challenging performance that we have never seen before. I left the theatre feeling overwhelmed, amused and resounded with its keen commentary on society. Chen’s refreshing directorial vision is a testament to what the arts should be – innovative, creative and bold enough to stray away from conventions.

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