Friday, February 28, 2020

Depression is such a dirty word. Or is it? - My review of Pangdemonium’s ‘The Son’

How many of you know of someone who is suffering from depression or anxiety or have suicidal tendencies or are self-hurting themselves? How many of you know of someone who has attempted or committed suicide? How many of you think that being happy means not having depression? Is that person yourself? In today's ever increasing complex society, there are so many issues and circumstances which can lead someone to depression such as cyber bullying, relationship breakups, peer pressure, parental pressure, work pressures, school pressures and more and more. Are we doing enough to help these people? How are we doing so? Is it a case of “just suck it up .. it is a part of life and growing up.” 

I just watched Pangdemonium’s The Son at the Drama Centre theatre and I must say it was truly remarkable. This show revolves around a family whose son is going through depression and how the family is torn apart by this. The father is a successful professional who wholeheartedly loves his son and will do what it takes to help his son recover. However, is he truly doing what his son really needs or doing what he ‘thinks’ his son needs? Is he truly helping the son or harming his son? Is he really listening? This is the main premise of this show and though it may seem simple, this show will exhibit to the audience the complexities of someone facing depression and how things can get worse by ‘loving’ the person.

The two main roles were played by the father-son duo of Adrian and Zachary Pang. In my previous reviews, I have mentioned several times of how Adrian Pang stands out as one of the most gifted actors in Singapore. His ability to transmit the feelings of joy, worry, fury and sadness is just amazing. At the end of the show, you can see the exhaustion on his face from his focus and passion in his acting. Zachary seems to have inherited his father’s talent. His role as the son was played well. The tone of his voice, his body language, the gestures he makes is so natural that you can’t help but feel that he is really a teenager facing depression. Maybe as they are father-son in real life makes their portrayal seem so much more natural and yet heart-wrenching to watch. The two other roles were played by Shona Benson (the mother) and Sharda Harrison (the new partner). The two ladies also were very good in their performances.  

Throughout the show, I can’t help but feel like I was looking through a window of a real family facing these problems. The set of the show is simple but fitting of this show. Just a normal living room in a normal home. Minimal furniture to distract you from the captivating performance of the cast.

Kudos to Pangdemonium for being special and daring to bring such a provocative but yet relevant show to us. This is not your typical ha-ha-ha kind of show but one which tackles serious a real-life topic in an entertaining, unforgiving, no-holds-barred manner. A big thank you and congratulations to Tracie Pang for her excellent direction in this production. I could feel the audience really moved by the brutally honest direction of the show.

Personally, I am very glad that there was a very healthy turnout for a weekday evening show. I am glad that people are winning against the fear of Covid-19 and supporting our local arts. As long as the support is there, I am sure people like Pangdemonium will continue to be energised and motivated to produce more such high-quality theatre for us.

I would like to end on a more serious and sombre note. Depression is all around us, heck we may be facing it but we term it as ‘work-stress’ or ‘just being tired.’ Depression is very real and is no joking matter. If you know someone facing depression, please do something about it. If you think you are facing depression, please do something about it.

Go get your tickets at SISTIC to Pangdemonium's The Son and you will see and feel the reality of depression. I implore parents of teenagers to go watch this as what you think as ‘teenage angst’ may be hiding a darker reality. I ask for parents of future teenagers to watch this so that you can identify the signs early. Finally, I fully recommend everyone to watch this as this is very relevant today and hopefully it will jolt you and you can do something to help someone or yourself. Please don’t wait until its too late …

Monday, February 24, 2020

What’s in a name? I want to be Earnest !!! My Review of The Importance of Being Earnest 2020 by Wild Rice


I remember in 2009, the excited anticipation before the show started while the Tang Quartet entertained the audience at the Drama Center Theatre. I can also fondly recall the added spring in my step and the secret chuckle after the show. It had thoroughly entertained me. The show was The Importance of Being Earnest. Best time in the theatre.. got free food too. Cucumber sandwiches.

Fast forward 11 years later, I watched it again for the third time .. yet again, the same rollercoaster of emotions from the minute I step into the theatre to the moment I leave. The only difference is, instead of Tang Quartet, the musical interludes are now performed by the very accomplished Concordia Quartet, and instead of the Drama Center Theatre, it is now at Wild Rice’s own theatre. Yup !!! Cucumber sandwiches provided too !!! I was served by Hossan Leong !!!!! (Hossan, if you are wondering, I asked you whether Kay Siu also injured his leg and you told me it is an unfortunate result of aging !!!)

In a nutshell, the show was just brilliant !!! It had the audience laughing from start to end. The banter between the characters was sharp, witty and full of intentional puns. A special shoutout to Chua Enlai and Gavin Yap who played Gwendolen and Cecily respectively. They played their roles wonderfully. The part where they were ‘bitchy’ all the way to ‘reconciliatory’ was just so good with every nuances in their expressions perfect. Definitely one of the highlights of this show. Ivan Heng of course played the role of Lady Bracknell as he has always done. I think he is such a natural and he can just do this in his sleep. The two main ‘male’ characters of Algernon and John (Earnest) were played by Brendon Fernandez and Daniel York Loh. They played the same roles in Earnest 2009 and I must say they have matured into the roles since then. You can see more feelings and a more rounded performance in Earnest 2020. However, the ‘ladies’ still stood out. Even Hossan who I personally think is getting better and better (like fine wine la, if you get my drift).

To something a bit more serious. As I write this, there is a very dark cloud over Singapore with the Covid-19 virus. Businesses are suffering. Even the local Arts scene and its community are not spared. In today’s Straits Times, “Arts scene hit hard by virus fears.” highlight how practitioners are struggling to stay afloat. Events / classes are being postponed or cancelled all because of fear of the virus spreading. It was the same last Saturday (22/2/2020) at the matinee show. Usually a Wild Rice show will be filled to the rafters but instead the turnout was less than half the theatre. When I went in and looked around, it hit me hard. I felt very sad. Imagine the cast who can so obviously see the red of the empty seats all around the theatre. It must be very demoralising and yet they hide it well. When Ivan Heng appeared to welcome and greet the audience, he had his signature warm cheeky smile. All the other cast members were also found of enthusiasm, looking so dashing in their white shirts and blue jeans. I am not going to repeat myself on how we can help.  You can read it here where I posted a few days ago about this issue.

However, I want to stand up and applaud all the cast and team of Wild Rice for having the guts to go on with the show knowing the risk that you all personally take as well as the financial risk. I applaud the cast for putting up such a great show that really blew away my worries. If laughter is the best medicine, I would want none-other than you guys to be my doctor !!!

So guys, tickets are still available at SISTIC !!! The show will be running until Sunday, 8th March 2020. Go GET THEM NOW !!! Don't let this virus defeat us !! Satisfaction guaranteed, earnest-ly !!


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Show Must Go On !!! Covid-19 vs Singapore Arts Scene

In the dark light of the current Covid-19 situation happening in Singapore, the local Arts community has been badly affected. Many events have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. For events which have carried on, the turnout has been severely reduced resulting in high losses. Some people will comment that the events should be cancelled anyways and if cancelled at least can minimise losses. It isn’t such a straightforward decision. For many of these events, a lot of time and costs have already invested and deposits on rental of venues have already been paid many weeks earlier and are non-refundable. On top of that, in many cases, the organisers would really want to share their blood, sweat, tears and laughter with the public. Besides, isn’t laughter the best medicine.

In Singapore, due to the relatively small local support of the local Arts, high and / or prolonged losses can have far-reaching repercussions. Smaller, startup organisations may go into debt and be forced to shut down. To cut costs, they may be forced to downsize on their workforce, leading to lay-offs for employees who are already relatively poorly paid or only part-timers. This in turn may lead to a drop in the quality of our local events. Additionally, it may turn away budding playwrights, artists, performers, producers, directors, lighting specialists and set producers from the local scene.

A buddy of mine, recently concluded a survey on the ‘Effect of Covid-19 on the Singapore Arts scene.’ Many respondents were uncertain about their job security especially in the near future. Many were concerned whether the events postponed will ever proceed in the future. Some responded that they may not be able to meet future financial commitments. This is not good.

What can we do about it ?

Before, I give my opinions on what we can do, let me state categorically that I am NOT under the employment of ANY LOCAL ARTS ORGANISATION. I have not in ANY WAY WHATSOEVER been asked, requested, bribed, paid (even in tickets) or forced by anyone to write this. So.. what can we do?
  1. If there are any events happening and you are interested, don’t be scared… GO FOR THEM !!! How is going for an arts event different from going to a shopping mall or even a hotpot meal?
  2. If you have already bought tickets for shows, please don’t go asking for a refund. You already planned to go, so just go and have a good time.  
  3. If you have been considering showing your gratitude for your favourite local arts organisation, what is the best way than to give a small donation to help them especially during this difficult time. Any amount adds up. That extra 50 rolls of toilet paper or 100 packs of instant noodles can wait for next month.
  4. Please don’t discourage your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets from going. Did you and will you discourage your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets from going to work, foodcourts for meals, supermarkets both in Singapore and in Johor Bahru to stockpile on essentials?
  5. If you did go for any local arts event and had a good time, spread the word…. tell your friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbours and pets in any and all ways. Tell them how good it was and how safe it was and not to worry. It is always better karma to encourage rather than discourage.
  6. If you are going for any of these events, practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands with soap, wear a mask if you wish.
There are many other things which we can all do to help.

To put it bluntly, all our local arts guys are also risking themselves by continuing to do what they love to entertain us but do we not them putting on a face mask or running away in fear? So why should we do that? I do not see you running away from queuing up at the nearby Buzz newsagents when they have face masks to sell? I am very sure that all measures will be taken to ensure that everyone who attends will be safe. Heck even our arts guys want to be safe right? Please have some empathy. They are performing their hearts for you and putting up their most beautiful art works but then they see a half-empty theatre, an empty auditorium or a ‘dead’ gallery, how would they feel?   

I am doing what I can to help because not only do I have good friends who are involved in the local Arts scene, but because this is a matter very close to my heart. Please do not let our local Arts wither due to this virus.

A big thanks to our local Arts community members who continue to work hard for us. Thanks for putting the laughter and joy in our lives. I think it is about time that we put a smile on your face as well !! Take care and be safe. THE SHOW MUST GO ON !!!!

*special thanks to Mr Terence Tan and his team for the work done on the survey.