Trending in Asia: Dinner and Theatre, Together?

Trending in Asia: Dinner and Theatre, Together?

By Tristan Chan

The typical dinner date is getting stale. That’s according to a major study that revealed that 71% of millennials in Asia love food-focused events that are experiential.

So, ever heard of dinner theatre? Inspired by the growing dinner theatre scene in London, Singaporeans Stuart Wee and Emily Png decided to combine theatre and food in one menu. Their events company, And So Forth, has since gone on to stage some 40 experiential events in its six years of running. 

In any of their events, you and your date should expect a theatre production that blends a multi-course meal, elaborate sets, a captivating story and a cast you can chat with. 

Some cast members in local production If We Dream Too Long by And So Forth. Photo: And So Forth 

Much of the production centres around food. That includes technical elements and the story that is being told. “No matter what kind of immersive experience we are offering, our food has to be well thought out, with flavours interesting enough to excite our palate and portions big enough so our guests don’t leave hungry,” says Wee.  

He adds that fairy tales and popular ballets are a hit with Singaporeans. “In terms of having the most number of people who attended our show, it will probably be Dinner in Wonderland, inspired by Alice in Wonderland! We also had a successful run of Marie and The Nutcracker, often people watch the ballet but don’t really know what the story is about.” 

But in such stories, there’s a challenge to find close Asian food equivalents. “For example, for Marie and the Nutcracker, we created a menu to fit the story as much as possible, primarily German cuisine but incorporated candied bacon that taste really similar to bak kwa (barbecued pork) -- a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat product. Truffle fries are a staple along Singaporeans so we added truffle into our bangers and mash for this experience.”

A dish in local production If We Dream Too Long by And So Forth. Photo: And So Forth

One of And So Forth’s earliest local productions, If We Dream Too Long, was a reimagining of an iconic Singaporean literary work, Goh Poh Seng's similarly titled classic 1972 novel. For the nostalgic experience, they faced the challenge of serving food that would be readily available elsewhere for much cheaper. Hence, they paid attention to giving the context to the food served, through the interiors and the design of dining spaces. 

“For If We Dream Too Long, we served dishes like mee siam, curry chicken rice and used premium ingredients. There was a scene that’s in the protagonist’s home, a typical Singaporean home at that time and you get to meet his parents. In Asian culture, everyone knows that mum’s cooking is the best, so the protagonist’s mum “prepared a meal” for the guests,” Wee recounted.

But he observes that Singaporean patrons do not typically gush about Asian stories or the cuisine. He hopes this will change as more Asian interactive theatrical experiences pop up. 

These include Shanghai-based Sleep No More -- a multi-sensory retelling of Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy through a film noir lens. Or, the Secret Theatre project that when staged in Hong Kong, simulates a thriller escapade through feelings of being in a haunted mansion and on a speedboat chase.

Buah keluak, a creamy nut that’s a trademark of Peranakan cuisine. Photo: Getty 

Still, Wee is excited about the unexplored offerings in Asian cuisine. “We are inspired by things that say ‘Modern Singapore’ like crispy pork belly burger and buah keluak (traditional nut in Peranakan cuisine) burger by Hambaobao. Old Chang Kee London now presents Western pies but with Asian fillings that resemble a curry puff. It excites me watching Europeans appreciating Singaporean food -- so it’s something we hope to serve more even as we adapt and remake Western stories.”

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