For 19 years, British Theatre Playhouse, a long-standing member of the British Chamber of Commerce and the European Chamber of Commerce, has stood at the forefront of celebrating London’s West End theatre and musicals in Singapore. We sat down recently with Cecilia Leong-Faulkner, the trailblazing founder and managing director of the British Theatre Playhouse, to chat all about her extraordinary journey, and the events in the pipeline. They include a dazzling charity gala and a one-night-only live performance of iconic jukebox musical Big Girls Don’t Cry. Sing along to the best tunes from Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – for a good cause!
What spurred your love for live musicals and theatre?
Art has always been a part of my life. I have always been driven by passion and creativity. As Malaysia’s representative for Warner Brothers movies, my father laid the foundation for our family’s artistic lineage. Following his footsteps, my maternal niece, Amanda Nell Eu, emerged as a brilliant filmmaker. Her latest creation, Tiger Stripes, clinched the coveted Grand Prize at Cannes Critic’s Week and Best Feature Film at Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival. My former husband, John Faulkner, a British actor and producer, brought his talents to Singapore and established the first Drama School for LaSalle College of the Arts. Our son was born here.
How did the British Theatre Playhouse start in Singapore and what it’s all about?
As an avid enthusiast of London’s renowned West End musicals and the illustrious Hilton-British Airways Playhouse, I found myself immersed in the enchanting world of theatre. In particular, it was the play Bedroom Farce, produced by the esteemed British actor and producer Derek Nimmo, that forever changed my life. It was on its opening night I met my former husband, John, an actor and producer in the show.
Unfortunately, tragedy would later strike when Derek met an untimely accident. He left behind a void in the world of theatrical production and touring, and his absence left countless fans, including myself, yearning for more exquisite performances in luxurious five-star hotels worldwide. With our plan to carry on Derek Nimmo’s legacy and continue presenting extraordinary productions, we reached out to his wife, Patricia. We had the privilege of speaking with their son, Piers Nimmo. To our delight, they supported our endeavour and granted us their blessing to embark on our theatrical journey.
Thus, the British Theatre Playhouse was born, with Singapore as its home. Today, we meticulously plan and orchestrate a series of captivating shows from our headquarters in this vibrant city-state. Our productions draw inspiration from the grandeur of London’s West End, capitalising on its pool of exceptional talent, including actors, musical performers, directors, costume designers and set designers. We blend the allure of the West End with the vibrant energy of Singapore. Our first production, How The Other Half Loves, presented in a dinner-theatre-style setting at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Ballroom, was a sell-out for all three evenings.
How has the British Theatre Playhouse evolved since it first opened?
Britain has a wealth of experience and talent in its internationally acclaimed creative arts and industries. The culture is wide-ranging and diverse: from classical to contemporary, there is something for everyone. So, we have produced classical plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest to farces like Funny Money, music-based plays such as The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Blond Bombshells of 1943 to music concerts like Salute to Sinatra and The Definitive Rat Pack. We have produced and presented 25 plays and musicals to date.
We are dedicated to delivering the real deal at the British Theatre Playhouse. But we don’t stop there. Our vision extends beyond the shores of Singapore. We aspire to take the spirit of London’s West End to audiences across the globe. Our productions, meticulously curated, cast and made in the UK, are a testament to our commitment to excellence and our passion for bringing the finest theatrical experiences to discerning audiences worldwide.
Why do you love bringing musicals and entertainment from London’s West End to Singapore?
Good question. The work is the win I guess, and I enjoy the challenge. All theatre producers take substantial business risks and look nervously on their shoulders. With the substantially increased amount of live theatre and musical “products” being offered in Singapore, the quality and the ability to cross borders and tour our shows are vital. I love bringing entertainment from London’s West End to Singapore because I know of its class and pedigree, and we have the knowledge, experience, and skills to collaborate, strike value-added partnerships, and entice audiences to our shows. Each show is an immersive experience that will leave our audience breathless with delight.
What have been some special moments for the British Theatre Playhouse?
I’m delighted to have worked with many incredibly talented British actors and directors after producing and presenting so many shows to showcase London’s West End in Singapore. They include Jane Seymour OBE (of Dr Quinn fame, and a Golden Globe winner for Best Actress), Robin Herford (he first staged and directed Woman in Black and is one of Britain’s most respected theatre directors), John Nolan (an acclaimed television and Royal Shakespeare Company actor, his paternal nephew is Christopher Nolan, and John played a recurring role in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises directed by Christopher), to name a few.
I also had the privilege of welcoming the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew and President R S Nathan and his wife to our production of The Importance of Being Earnest in Singapore. They joined us for our gala dinner in aid of Community Chest after the show at the Raffles Hotel.
What live musicals or shows can we get excited about this year?
The magic of the British Theatre Playhouse will dazzle theatre-goers this year! One highlight will be the popular jukebox musical Big Girls Don’t Cry, which we’re bringing back live from London’s West End to Singapore for one evening, and making a social impact with the participation of our partners such as the British High Commission, British Chamber of Commerce and EtonHouse International School. It will thrill our audiences while raising some money for charity at the same time. Last year’s show, the first after COVID, sold out on the opening night. If you love the West End smash hit musical Jersey Boys, you’ll enjoy Big Girls Don’t Cry, which has all the hits of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
What is the “Art for Charity” programme?
For almost every production we have produced and presented, the British Theatre Playhouse has supported a local charity with a charity performance under our established “Art for Charity” programme. We’ve done this through a significant donation from tickets sold for the charity performance. The charities have included KK Hospital’s Regional Outreach to Kids Fund, the Business Times Budding Artists Fund, Straits Times School Pocket Fund, HCA Hospice Care, the Singapore Red Cross, and Food from the Heart, to name a few.
What can guests expect at this year’s “Art for Charity” gala event?
The British Theatre Playhouse’s “Art for Charity” gala is a highly acclaimed event in the Singapore social scene. It garners support from notable individuals and influential organisations, including the British High Commissioner to Singapore, our patron, and the British Chamber of Commerce. This year, we will be supporting EtonHouse Community Fund. So, let our show Big Girls Don’t Cry whisk you away into a realm of pure enchantment where lyrics and melodies resonate, emotions run deep, and the songs come alive!
Where do the funds raised during the event go?
Funds raised for the EtonHouse Community Fund charity will contribute to educational opportunities that will change the lives of underserved and financially disadvantaged children.
How can we attend the gala?
Tickets are from $370 upwards, which includes a welcome drink, the show and a cocktail reception with free-flow wines during the interval. Thirty percent of ticket proceeds will be donated to EtonHouse Community Fund.
Straight from London’s West End, the one-night-only live performance of musical Big Girls Don’t Cry in Singapore will be held on 18 November in the Grand Ballroom at One Farrer Hotel. Book tickets by calling 6449 4855 or heading online here.
Looking for more fun activities to add to your calendar? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Singapore!