Arts

On a Date with Juliet: Cheryl Tan Crosses The Causeway

Whether you’re a theatre junkie, a picnic lover or Shakespeare himself, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT)’s “Shakespeare in the Park: Romeo and Juliet” is not to be missed. Catch the last iteration of our favourite Singaporean Shakespeare Spectacle before tickets run out.

Cheryl Tan was only 8 when she was first introduced into the world of performing arts. Since then, she has never looked back as she continues to pursue a career as an actress and a jazz singer in Malaysia and Singapore. Some of her most memorable plays include “Beauty World” and other SRT productions, such as “Rapunzel”.

In this special two-part series, DANAMIC.ORG were privileged to chat with Malaysian-born actress Cheryl Tan after a show (check out our interview with her co-star Thomas Pang). We covered everything from the Bard, her challenges tackling Shakespearean English, and we even throw some shade at the Malaysian government. We were enchanted by the chemistry between Thomas Pang and Cheryl Tan, the stars casting the long shadows of Romeo and Juliet. Expect some really steamy physical action in some scenes that made us whistle. Our beloved “star-crossed lovers” have never been framed better.


DNM: How was your playing a well-known character like Juliet?

Cheryl: It’s been a big challenge for me, this is my first time doing a Shakespeare show. So it’s really been all about learning the terms, the techniques, figuring out how the language works. But when I’m actually playing Juliet, it’s a lot of fun. It’s interesting to be this person who never ever has to compromise, she just goes “this is going to be mine, and no one is going to take it away from me”. It’s very interesting because we don’t get to do that in real life.

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How did you overcome the challenge of figuring out the Shakespearean English?

It was easy to memorise, just because I’m a singer so memorising is really easy for me. But making it come across is difficult, a big challenge. So you don’t just have to know what it means, you need to see it as something you can improvise as well. You need to try and become a person who somehow improvises these ready-made beautiful poetic things – big images – it’s crazy.

We had an audience full of kids, 14/15 year olds, teenagers and they just went nuts, man. It wasn’t just because of all the kissing that made them feel something. It’s also because the characters are them. As long as the story is truthful, it will continue to be relevant.

In your opinion, how does Shakespeare continue to be relevant to Singapore?

Like Thomas said, I think the English connection is very important in particular. I think one of the reasons why Shakespeare is still so popular because he’s just very, very smart! The story comes through because people understand these characters, they’re real people, they’re very complex and there are real concrete reasons why they do the things they do so I think that still speaks to people today.

We had an audience full of kids, 14/15 year olds, teenagers and they just went nuts man. It wasn’t just because of all the kissing that made them feel something. It’s also because the characters are them. As long as the story is truthful, it will continue to be relevant. And well put together of course! 

I understand that you’re also a Malaysian actress, so what is the difference between the theatre scenes in Singapore and Malaysia?

Singapore’s got a lot more funding, a lot of people are much more gungho (enthusiastic) about being very proper and professional and getting things done on time, which is nice. But I think that sometimes the art is Kuala Lumpur is more interesting because people are more chaotic. A lot of our best actors come to Singapore to work, but I think that with respect to the writing and painting, [they have] the more creative side of it.

They are really interesting in Malaysia. It’s just unfortunate that you hardly ever hear about them because we have no arts council or backing from the government, and the currency’s gone to hell and the politics are just terrible. It’s interesting to see who survives in art in Malaysia. 

I came to Singapore because I want to work with these directors and actors because they are so good, SO good.

So what can be done?

For KL, I think that a lot of younger people, which is something they are doing right now actually, are starting to produce and create their own work which is great. However, I think that everyone needs to want to be a lot better. From the government’s side, if they could throw some money once in a while it’d be nice, but they’d probably just use it to build another tower or something. Hope is hard [to have] in Malaysia right now. 

Is that partly why you came to Singapore to work?

I came to Singapore because I want to work with these directors and actors because they are so good, SO good. My god, like Thomas Pang, what the hell! Everyone here is of such a high calibre, of course you want to do it. At the moment I am also trying to move to Singapore because it seems to make more sense to live in Singapore as an artist. 

What’s in store for you after “Shakespeare In The Park”?

There’s this TV show happening that I’m going to film for Okto. Hopefully I’ll still be working after this!

All the best Cheryl!

Check out more from Juliet here:

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