Theatre Review: Filled with chamber music, The Gang of Five is a bittersweet comedy for theatre lovers at La Mama Mobile

Theatre was briefly back in Melbourne before another five day lockdown saw shows rescheduled. Before the enforced hiatus, I was fortunate enough to catch a performance of The Gang of Five at La Mama Mobile Theatre.

The Gang of Five opened to a full house, based at Creative Spaces’ Studio 1. Repurposing a dance studio for the production, patrons were seated in front of a kitchenette – a rather cool choice, I found, as it made the audience feel like part of the performance. The stage, lighting, and décor was simple, and, as it turned out, The Gang of Five had no need to be dolled up, because the actors would be the colourful and memorable strengths of the night.

The Gang of Five is follows a family and two friends as a series of events converge. All members of the household are forced to reveal their secrets, which by chance or circumstance are mysteriously interwoven.

Chen Ting (Yu Lin) is sweet kind girl. She studies commerce – and hates it – and doesn’t know how to tell her traditional father about her true passion. What would Confucius say? And with the support of the rest of the gang, will she get the happy ending she so desperately craves? Living in Melbourne with Uncle Chen Fu (Raymond Khong), her Aunt Song Mie-Lien (Cindy Liu), and their two guests Xiao Jun (Po Goh) and Huang Chung (Maurice Wang), Chen Ting admits her secret, leading to the rest of the gang outing their own, and drawing them into helping each other with the best of intentions.

As the performers interacted with each other, a closeness truly shone through. Yu Lin in particular stood out, playing her role with a perfect sweetness and kindness.

The humour is plentiful, albeit occasionally a little rushed, as Aussie slang meets Chinese traditions. As the family drink tea while sharing secrets and stories, we hear about the cultural challenges experienced by the older generation (the show’s title is an obvious reference to the historical Gang of Four), and also of the younger generation, who have integrated more easily into Australian life. We also learn that all cultures and all families have secrets and traditions that need to be discussed. The show has a realistic approach, and each actor contributes a stellar performance, showcasing the bittersweet problems in life that we all relate to.

Singing is a huge part of the show, with nineteen songs (perhaps a few too many) performed. The songs are sung in the “lied” or “art song” tradition, which requires vocal strength, emotion and virtuosity by all singers. Yu Lin’s angel vocals started the night with “Strong As A Tree“, while Cindy Liu displayed a stunning powerhouse soprano voice. Veteran Raymond Khong sang with beautiful deep tones, showcasing a talent that has spanned a life time in theatre, radio and television. Maurice Wang stunned with a baritone vocal display – his history is also lengthy, with opera performances, screen features, and voice over work. Meanwhile, Po Goh’s piano skills were amazing, adding his personal touch to each song.

The show’s director, composer and librettist Noel Fidge is a past Rock Eisteddfod winner, a former student of the Julliard School in New York, and a Professor of Biochemistry at Monash University. After retiring, he aimed to develop a novel form of musical theatre – The Gang of Five is the end result.

The Gang of Five successfully blends theatre with chamber music, giving the absolute best of both worlds.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

With shows rescheduled for February 18th, seats are filling fast for The Gang of Five. For those unable to grab a ticket, there are plenty of other shows on offer at La Mama. I recommend indulging yourself at Love Fest 2021 or diving into the Summer and Autumn programs.

Check out the La Mama website for all upcoming and rescheduled show – link HERE.

Reviewer attended the performance on Wednesday 10th February.

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