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Theatre review: Pangdemonium’s Dragonflies

Stranger danger

Theatre review: Pangdemonium’s Dragonflies
Pangdemonium’s production of Dragonflies hits the nail with its themes on climate change, xenophobia and migration

There is a lot to unpack in Pangdemonium's production of Dragonflies. At the get-go, you might wonder why it's named after the winged insect, one that, according to Pangdemonium, migrates over 14,000km each year to search for a place to lay its eggs. In contrast, humans, though known to be nomadic by nature, don't quite go the same distance. Which begs the questions: Are humans meant to stay in one place? If not, what does this mean in a time when politicians have set discriminatory immigration laws and border securities in place?

That time is 2021, in a post-Brexit world where we meet Singaporean Chinese teacher Leslie Chen, played by Adrian Pang, who reprises his role for the second time. Leslie's grieving for his late wife, a British Caucasian woman who is also the mother to his stepdaughter, Max. The duo's torn between staying in their current home in the United Kingdom and returning to Chen's home in Singapore. Written by Singapore-born and UK-based playwright and actor Stephanie Street, it's an understatement when we say that Dragonflies hits too close to home.

Pangdemonium's good at recognising and championing local talents who deal with difficult issues surrounding what makes a family and home. Last year, the theatre company staged Tango, a story on a mixed race LGBT family, written by local playwright Joel Tan. This time, Dragonflies looks at the blended family and its place in today's society. Having made its debut at the Singapore International Festival of Arts in 2017, the production's been nominated in eight categories at the 2018 Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards including Best Script and Production of the Year. As much of a dystopian family drama as it is a commentary on finding your place in the world that's destined to tear itself apart with bigotry, xenophobia and climate change, Dragonflies will make you uncomfortable — for all the right reasons.

Matt Grey, Frances Lee, Benjamin Chow, Adrian Pang and Fanny Kee in Dragonflies

Synonymous with the UK, dreary weather in the form of rain cascades down and further dramatises the set, which doesn't for once adopt an optimistic hue. The only hope and voice for change is seen in characters such as Elizabeth Morse's Max, whose youthful naivety colours her will to help others regardless of creed. Frances Lee, Jamil Schulze and Benjamin Chow are deft at using accents and mannerisms to inhabit their ethnically diverse characters, and not once do the portrayals — Lee's Filipino maid, Schulze's Bangladeshi construction worker and Chow's Northeast Indian activist — feel like caricatures.

Reprising her role as Chen's sister who reeks of upper middle class, Chinese privilege is Tan Kheng Hua, whose on-point performance uncomfortably recalls the real-life characters we've seen and heard, or are even personally acquainted with. Shona Benson stars as Chen's wife who returns in his daydreams, dressing and fixing him up — in a clever move by director Tracie Pang — to show just how lost and reliant the widower is to his late wife.

Benjamin Chow, Jamil Schulze, Elizabeth Morse and Adrian Pang in Dragonflies

Street's writing is effectual in capturing the pain brewed by grief, as well as the resignation in a person from a marginalised community. Running for the second time, the script was even updated to include a jab at the Uber and Grab drama ("We have Grab, but it's worse"), much to the audience's glee. One of the more tender moments in the play is portrayed by Pang, whose voice breaks as he talks about the pain that burns inside as well as the cracks that can surface. Another quote-worthy line surfaces when the play muses on how powerless a human feels when dealing with physical geography.

Watch Dragonflies to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, and leave the theatre considering our changing, mobile role as humans in this uncertain future.

Pangdemonium's Dragonflies is running till 3 June at Victoria Theatre. Tickets here.

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Text: Adibah Isa

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