[Spoiler alert: Do not read ahead if you have not watched Ep 11 of Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of A Wayang Star.]

As a comedian, Judee Tan has cracked us up as one of the kooky correspondents on the news parody series The Noose (hello, North Korea’s Kim Bong Cha!) But once in a while, she would like to show the world that she’s equally capable of making us cry.

“I know you know me from The Noose, but I started out in theatre,” says Judee who gets to revisit her dramatic roots on Mediacorp’s Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of a Wayang Star, the stage-to-screen adaptation of Goh Boon Teck’s 1994 play, based on real-life Chinese opera icon Oon Ah Chiam, who happens to be Goh’s mother.

Judee and the original play go back a long way: She made her theatre debut in the 2007 staging of Titoudao. On the serialised version, she plays Ah Kuan — a role created specially for the 13-part series — the long-suffering housemother of a wayang troupe. Nurturing, compassionate and loyal, Ah Kuan is unlike any other character Judee has played before.

“I do treasure my time as Ah Kuan,” Judee tells 8days.sg over the phone. “It’s a role I have never done before. The experience of playing her is really rewarding. I have people coming to me, telling me, ‘We all wish we have an Ah Kuan in our life.’ So it’s really nice that the audience appreciates her.”

The TV version of Titoudao marks another milestone for the 30-something thespian: it’s the first time she’s written a serialised drama (she scripted Episodes 9 and 10). “Ah Kuan has to make a lot of difficult choices on the show and [as a writer], I get to put myself in her position [and examine] the circumstances surrounding those decisions.”

Over the course of our conversation, we discussed how she finds a silver lining in the COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ measures even though they have cost her a few gigs (“I’m now digging into my savings, reducing spending, and surviving off government grants”); and how she drew from her own mental health struggles for a crucial scene in Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of a Wayang Star.

titoudao group pic
Group effort: Judee (fifth from the left) with the rest of the 'Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of a Wayang Star' cast in Ipoh in Dec 2019.