Theatre review: Tango
Pangdemonium's a theatre company that has a knack for producing stories around families. Of course, it's unsurprising that husband-and-wife co-founders Adrian and Tracie Pang uphold the family unit — what's admirable is that the duo continues to showcase families that are diverse. Last year, they staged Tribes and Falling, two stories surrounding a family's relationship with a hearing-impaired and autistic family member respectively. From February to March this year, the dark drama, The Pillowman, followed two adult brothers tortured by their twisted childhood. This time, the Pangs have taken a timely stab at LGBT families with Tango, written by Singaporean playwright Joel Tan.
It's a story that's three years in the making. Inspired by the blog 4 Relative Strangers by James D Williams and the Pang's personal friends Mark and Ed, Tango deals with the challenges that faced a married couple as they resettled to Singapore with their preteen son. The catch? The inter-racial married couple comprised of two gay men, Kenneth and Liam, played by Koh Boon Pin and Emil Marwa. Dylan Jenkins — whose father is thespian Daniel Jenkins — plays their adopted son in his stage debut, while lauded actor Lim Kay Siu plays Kenneth's father.
With dialogue in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay, the two-hour play is uniquely Singaporean. Issues around LGBT, class and foreign talents find their way through conversations around characters we recognise from living in Singapore. There's the overbearing, self-righteous older woman Poh Lin — an "auntie" who's a product of her time — played by veteran stage actress Lok Meng Chue, who represents some of Singapore's narrow-minded views on what strictly constitutes a family. Her nephew Benmin, played by Benjamin Chow, is closeted and new to the gay dating scene. He starts to date Zul, played by Ruzaini Mazani, a loud and proud gay man with a fondness for green tea. Though not first-billed, these characters are crucial in framing Tango's overarching theme of diversity in Singapore's family units.
When an unfortunate incident triggers the gay parents to relook at their place in Singapore society and at home, Tan poignantly writes social media-charged scenes involving a community of radio DJs, newscasters and your friendly neighbourhood keyboard warriors deflty performed by the actors who switched between those personas. Soon, the issue catapults the family into a movement that's larger than their own. Amid playful banter between the family members which brought out some laughs, there were also skeletons that slowly found their way out of the closet as grandfather, father and son ploughed through dark subject matters such as abandonment, guilt and even suicide.
The set is a triumph in itself. Designed by Wai Yin Kwok with lighting by James Tan and multimedia by Genevieve Peck, the dynamic multi-platform creature is its own character, with interchangeable graphics projecting Singapore's different types of housing estates and settings- from the humbler HDB and a private dwelling to a Chinese restaurant. Mirrors and projections elevated it when necessary, while stools and benches formed beds, couches and dining areas accordingly. Cracks were also placed upon some surfaces — alluding to the unheard yet penetrating voices that simmer under Singapore's happy-clappy façade, perhaps?
Whether you identify as gay, straight, or simply a human being, you'll empathise with the struggles in each of the characters, and that's praise due to the playwright. Ultimately, no matter the orientation, Tan writes truths we already know, but need someone else to show us: That kindness, love, understanding and acceptance are what we seek within our families and communities. By the end of the production, you'll find yourself humming along to Tango's closing song, The Beach Boys' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' by Inch Chua in collaboration with sound designer Jing Ng. The cover is as cheerful as it is wistful, echoing the hope for a more tolerant and accepting Singapore.
Tango by Pangdemonium runs till 4 June at Drama Centre Theatre. Book tickets.