Time Out Singapore: ‘Beauty World’ Review

10 Dec 2015: Gwen Pew cha-cha-chas her way through the beaded curtains to delve into the sleazy ‘Beauty World’

★★★★☆

Beauty World - Alfred Phang

Photo by Alfred Phang

As one of the first locally produced English-language musicals, there’s no denying that Dick Lee and Michael Chiang’s Beauty World holds a special place in Singapore’s theatrical canon. Twenty-seven years and five stagings later, it’s still a charming production that leaves the audience both entertained and aching for a happier ending.

Set in the glamorous, seedy ’60s, the show follows 19-year-old Ivy Chan Poh Choo as she travels from Batu Pahat in Malaysia to Singapore in search of the parents who abandoned her at birth. A jade pendant is her only clue, and it leads her to the murky realm of cabaret nightclub Beauty World, where the music is hot, the girls bitchy and the drinks strong. What follows is a tale of love, jealousy and betrayal.

This production is nowhere near as glitzy as Wild Rice’s 2008 version, and instead chooses to highlight the grittier aspects of the story. This is reflected in an ingeniously designed set created by Wong Chee Wai – the cabaret nightclub oozes sleaze, while a sense of desperate loneliness lingers in the yellowed, peeling walls of all the other spaces. Within these dirty walls, a brilliant bunch of colourful characters come alive.

The cast have big shoes to fill, as Beauty World has an illustrious alumnus that includes Claire Wong and Lim Kay Siu. But fill it they do. The role of Ivy is confidently taken on by Malaysian jazz singer and actor Cheryl Tan, who succeeds in depicting Ivy’s wide-eyed naivety while holding her own as a strong-minded heroine. Her angelic voice also brings out the best in Lee’s score, still catchy after all these years. Likewise, Janice Koh, Timothy Wan and Frances Lee – who play Mummy, Ah Hock and Rosemary respectively – evoke such depth and sensitivity in their characters that it’s easy for us to root for them.

Mediacorp actor Jeanette Aw’s role as the nightclub’s queen bee, Lulu, should have been one of the biggest highlights of the show, but her performance underwhelms. She’s got the whole sexy temptress thing down pat, and yet she never comes across as either vicious or tragic. Her big scene takes place right at the end, but she is unable to convey the full spectrum of emotions and bring home the full weight of the moment. She sobs, but somehow, her tears just don’t say enough.

Still, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable riot of a show. It’s not one that leaves you satisfied – it is, after all, set in a world where beauty is only skindeep – and a trail of broken dreams is left hanging in the air. But hey, life is a cabaret, old chum, so come to the cabaret.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ Review

8 Dec 2015: There’s nothing like winding down at the end of a big, action-packed year with a big, action-packed pantomime. And who else can we count on delivering that but Wild Rice? This time, the company took on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and turned it into a full-fledged song-and-dance show. Here are five magical elements that make the – very localised – production such a delight for the whole family.

The Emperor's New Clothes

The cast

The great Lim Kay Siu leads a brilliant cast of emerging and established talent. The Sam Willows’ Benjamin Kheng and fellow pop singer Sezairi have a wonderful dynamic as the tailors Nathan and Khairul, while Andrew Lua, Siti Khalijah and Benjamin Wong make for the ultimate comedic trio as government ministers.

The songs

The music is without a doubt the strongest element of the production, brought to life by three musicians as well as the actors themselves (who knew Lim Kay Siu could play the violin so well?) It took every bit of self-restraint for us not to triumphantly yell out the lyrics to ‘Naked as My Butt’ as we exited the theatre.

The costumes (or lack thereof)

The play revolves around the 50th edition of the ‘NDP’ – that’s ‘New Dress Parade’, natch – as there’s nothing Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun adores more than his clothes. In fact, he decided that an air-conditioned dome would be built over his kingdom just so he could break out his Fall/Winter pieces.

The set

The set here is, typical of Wild Rice productions, a sight to behold. We’re especially impressed by the dungeon scene, during which the huge birdcages used to imprison innocent people whom the Emperor disliked cinematically haunt the stage.

The jokes

A panto ain’t a panto without the laughs – and there’s certainly no shortage of that. Case in point: Khai No Surname and Nate No Surname’s tailor shop is a mash-up of their names, ‘KNN’. At the Emperor’s request, the name gets upgraded to include ‘Costume Custom Bespoke’ at the end, which also gets abbreviated. We’ll leave it at that.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Hello Goodbye’ Review

14 Sep 2015: The Singapore Repertory Theatre stages its very first rom-com, but the bland production fails to arouse any sort of warm, fuzzy feelings in us

★★☆☆☆

Hello Goodbye - SRT

Photo by Singapore Repertory Theatre

The Singapore Repertory Theatre is known for staging some pretty hard-hitting stuff, but for the first time in its 22-year history, the company decided to delve into a much more whimsical world of romantic comedy by performing Peter Souter’s Hello Goodbye. It’s a refreshing change, especially since the local theatre scene is currently dominated by works that deal with more serious topics. But while the idea sounds appealing, the choice of play leaves much to be desired.

Hello Goodbye’s fundamental flaw lies in its script. It begins with two strangers, Juliet (Denise Tan) and Alex (Shane Mardjuki), both moving into the same apartment on the same day. Rather than getting their incompetent estate agents to sort the mess out, they choose to squabble like children for the entire hour of the first act – which culminates in a make-out session and the curtains coming down just before their clothes fall off. The second act takes place ten years down the line, when the couple is on the brink of a divorce. It makes us wish that we hadn’t nipped to the bathroom during the intermission, as the most important, tender part of the play seems to have taken place then.

Since we didn’t get to see how Juliet and Alex’s relationship developed, it’s impossible to empathise with them when they fall out of love. The premise of the play is that opposites attract – but we struggle to find anything attractive here. Every play requires the audience to suspend a certain degree of disbelief, but their match is so improbable that it leaves us feeling completely incredulous. Tan portrays the spoilt, crazy, selfish Juliet perfectly well (after all, she did play a similar role in Pangdemonium’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice a couple of years ago), and Mardjuki is great at playing up all the quirks and quiet eccentricity of Alex – and yet there’s almost no chemistry between them. In fact, it almost seems like they couldn’t quite believe that they lasted ten years together, either. Their exchanges are often predictable and their jokes are more cringey than witty.

The production could have used a much stronger direction from Lisa Spirling. We don’t see the point in bringing onstage the two secondary characters – Juliet’s ex-boyfriend (David Howard) and a pretty auctioneer (Amanda Tee) – for instance, as they appear for a grand total of around five minutes each, and their physical presence adds little to the story.

Don’t get us wrong. We love a good rom-com as much as anyone, but the play simply doesn’t have enough charm or soul to keep us engaged for two hours. It’s by no means a terrible production, and there are one or two rather heart-warming scenes in the second half, but we’re not sure what to take away from the production, and we certainly didn’t leave with the warm, fuzzy feelings that we were looking for.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The LKY Musical’ Review

1 Aug 2015: This hyped-up musical, starring the excellent Adrian Pang as Lee Kuan Yew, is as slickly put together as it is predictable

★★★☆☆

The LKY Musical - Watson Lau

Photo by Watson Lau

It doesn’t get any more SG50 than this. The LKY Musical has been one of the most talked-about plays of the year, and unsurprisingly so: it celebrates the life of one of our founding fathers, and it’s due to be staged right through the National Day festivities.

It’s risky to portray such an iconic man on stage, but on paper, the newly minted Metropolitan Productions’ inaugural performance sounds great. Everyone likes a success story, and this one is backed by a stellar cast and crew that include composer Dick Lee, lyricist Stephen Clark and librettist Tony Petito, with Adrian Pang starring as the titular character and Sharon Au as his wife, Kwa Geok Choo.

The show takes us from Lee Kuan Yew’s Raffles College days – when he sulked about his future wife, affectionately called ‘Choo’, beating him in the English and Economic exams – to Singapore’s independence. It unfolds against a minimalistic, effective set, crafted by London-based stage design company takis, that comprises a series of moving wooden panels onto which photos and newspaper headlines are projected.

Although the stories featured in the production are those we know well, it’s refreshing to see them told in a theatrical setting. Our main concern, however, lies in the way that they are told. Twenty-five years is a lot of ground to cover in two and a half hours, but rather than focus on a few key events in detail, the show hurtles through many. Chapters from the former prime minister’s life are only touched upon lightly. One scene cuts quickly to the next, and there’s nothing and no one to serve as an anchor. At times, it feels like we’re watching a dramatised version of Lee’s CV.

Due to the pace, the characters are not given the time to develop. They seem more like stock characters – the supportive wife, the happy-go-lucky trishaw driver, the poker-loving former prime minister of Malaysia – than three-dimensional people. It becomes difficult for us to empathise with any of them, which is a shame as they have great back­stories.

That’s not to say that the cast didn’t give it their all. Pang perfectly encapsulates Lee’s passionate determination and the conflicts that he faced during his lifetime, while newcomer Benjamin Chow portrays the role of friend-turned-rival Lim Chin Siong in a measured, balanced way. Sebastian Tan steps away from his Broadway Beng persona here, though he’s clearly well suited to take on the part of Koh Teong Koo, the kind Hokkien rickshaw puller credited as having saved Lee’s life during the Japanese occupation. Au, to some extent, captures Kwa’s ‘perfect Asian wife’ image, although she is clearly not as musically trained as her fellow cast members, and doesn’t get much time onstage.

It’s a shame. The romance between Lee and Kwa – a beautiful tale in itself – would have been a brilliant way to tie the loose plot together. She was, after all, his rock in real life, and he had often said that he would not be who he was without her. Rather than positioning this as a love story and have the political storm rage in the background (or vice versa), this production ends up downplaying their relationship during those tumultuous years.

As the first show dedicated to arguably the nation’s most significant political figure, the play does have its place in the history of local theatre. It tells Lee’s – and Singapore’s – story without completely airbrushing out the not-so-flattering chapters (Operation Coldstore does get a brief mention). Yet it’s by no means revolutionary: the whole story is still fairly predictable and the colouring is done within the lines. But as far as SG50 celebrations go, this is par for the course.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Review

23 Jul 2015: If you’re looking to have a splashing good time, check out this West End smash hit – it’s almost impossible not to come out of the theatre grinning

★★★★☆

Singin in the Rain - Hagen Hopkins

Photo by Hagen Hopkins

As the stage version of Gene Kelly’s beloved film Singin’ in the Rain splish-splashes into town, we went into the theatre expecting a good time. And we weren’t disappointed. A gorgeous flurry of colour, humour and upbeat tunes, it’s the kind of show that checks all the feel-good boxes and urges you to leave your worries at the door.

Set in the ’20s, the show opens at the premiere of a silent movie, starring Don Lockwood (Duane Alexander) and Lina Lamont (Taryn-Lee Hudson). Despite their onscreen romance, Don can’t stand Lina, whose comically terrible voice also puts her at odds with her studio, which is hoping to embrace the talkies. So the studio heads enlist an aspiring actress, Kathy Seldon (Bethany Dickson), to be her voiceover artist. And here’s another spanner in the works: Kathy and Don fall head over heels with each other, leaving behind one jealous and angry Lina.

The cast is great to watch, and there’s a lot of chemistry between them. The two female leads – Hudson and Dickson – stand out by singing beautifully and deliberately horrendously, respectively, while Steven van Wyk shines in his role as Don’s loyal yet overlooked best friend, Cosmo Brown. As a result of these very strong actors, however, Alexander’s performance as Don does come across as somewhat bland, though not to the point at which it affects the overall experience.

The set is kept simple for the production, a good call as it allows us to focus on the impressive costumes and choreography. This is most evident in the number ‘The Broadway Ballet’, in which almost the entire cast performs in a brightly coloured dance sequence. Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s songs are still catchy more than half a century after the fact, and they’re all wonderfully sung by the cast and well supported by the live orchestra.

But of course, the scene that everyone’s waiting for is the title song, performed at the end of the first act and reprised during the finale. We’re told that 12,000l of water is used in each performance, as the stage – and the audience members in the first four rows – gets drenched. It’s a sight to behold, and so much fun that it’s bound to unleash your inner five-year-old.

The show is the perfect way to de-stress after a long day, so get in there, kick back, sing along, and know that you’ll come out with that ‘glorious feelin’’, and ‘be happy again’.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Imagination of the Future’ Review

Imagination of the Future - Kevin Lee : CAKE images

Photo by Kevin Lee/CAKE images

30 Jun 2015: Lights, camera… and a crew of hysterical PR gurus and government ministers bursts onto the set, screaming at one another to get ready before the president arrives. The wheel of time has been set in motion. For the next hour and a half, we are taken to a reimagined Chile in 1973.

Staged by Teatro La Re-sentida as part of The OPEN Festival, The Imagination of the Future is a masterpiece. In order to truly appreciate its genius, however, it’s worth taking some time to understand the history and context within which the play is set. In a nutshell, Salvador Allende became the president of Chile in 1970, and while he implemented a series of programmes that improved the lives of many lower- and middle-class citizens, not everyone welcomed his socialist agenda.

A coup was finally staged on September 11, 1973, when the military bombed the presidential palace. Allende made a famous farewell speech live on radio, and then chose to commit suicide rather than resign or surrender. The 17-year dictatorship that followed was one of the darkest and most brutal chapters in South America’s history.

In the Chilean company’s play – which is performed in Spanish with English surtitles – the cast takes the key events that happened in the last days of Allende’s rule and fills in the blanks with a series of ‘what-if’s in a last-ditch attempt to save his vision and his life.

It never pretends to be a history lesson, and yet by taking things to the absolute extreme, Imaginationis able to tackle the past, present and future all at once. It’s especially relevant now as what’s known as the ‘Chilean winter’ – a wave of student protests against income inequality and the lack of public universities – has been sweeping through the country in recent years after decades of silence.

The play daringly portrays the legendary figure of Allende as a droopy but stubborn old man with a penchant for cocaine, who needs to take regular 30min naps. His team of young communication specialists and ministers, by contrast, is fuelled by a different type of Coke (of the Diet variety), and obsessed with how best to market his image.

Not a dull moment can be found in this high-energy performance, which is deftly directed by Marco Layera. At times, the manic disorder and exaggerated shouting can get a bit much, but those scenes are thankfully balanced out by quieter moments that give the audience time and space to grasp the gravity and inevitability of the troubles.

Intensely funny and tragic at the same time, Imagination is not the kind of work that we can simply sit back and enjoy. Visually, we’re constantly assaulted with chaos in the form of fistfights and graphic descriptions of Pinochet’s horrific regime. Morally, it raises a series of challenging questions. How would you spend $50: to help a child in need, or to see a woman take her clothes off? Can revolution and democracy ever go hand in hand? What is the role of the media in presenting a country’s history?

So much ground is covered in such a short period of time, but the actors remain committed throughout, the performance is well paced, and it never shies away from the heart of those difficult issues. And even though the play itself offers neither answers nor respite, its bold gestures and colourful scenes will linger on, vividly replaying in our minds long after the curtain falls.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Singapura – The Musical’ Review

10 Jun 2015: The made-in-Philippines musical about Singapore isn’t ready for the world stage yet, but Gwen Pew believes that it nonetheless shows potential

★★★☆☆

Photo: Singapura - The Musical

Photo: Singapura – The Musical

So we got to the party a little late for this one. Amid rumours that Singapura: The Musical was going to close earlier than expected, we decided to hold our horses. But once The 4th Wall, the Filipino company behind the production, confirmed that it will go on for a couple more weeks – although the exact closing date has been adjusted a few times since – we headed for the beautifully refurbished Capitol Theatre.

We’re glad we waited. The musical has been cast in a pretty negative light so far, but it’s since had time to settle in and for minor elements to be tweaked. And while the show we saw had its flaws, there’s plenty of promise – all hope is not lost.

Singapura tells the story of the Tan family, headed by bus driver Tan Kok Yang (Juliene Mendoza) and his wife Bee Ling (Maybelle Ti) as they struggle through the decade prior to Singapore’s independence. It centres on the smart, headstrong daughter Lee May (Marian Santiago), who goes to law school to learn to fight for what she believes in and ends up caught in a love triangle between British officer Lieutenant Flynn (David Bianco) and her Malay childhood friend Adam (Reb Atadero) – no doubt emblems for the two sides that Singapore was caught in between at the time.

By now, most people would have read the reviews, which definitely do make salient points. At almost two and a half hours, the show is too long. Parts such as the Empress Dowager drifting across the stage at the beginning, or the song during which dancers from different races that make up Singapore come together, can – and should – be cut altogether.

On other fronts, we saw things a little differently. The inconsistent accents that many have flagged up, for instance, hardly bothered us. Sure, you can tell that the mostly Filipino actors are not native Singlish speakers, and their manner of speech understandably doesn’t go down well with the local audience. But when – or if – it does travel to other countries, their relatively neutral accents, lightly tinged with traces of our dialect, will hardly be a concern.

Off to see the world, Ma!

Singapura is, ostensibly, a family drama – not an odyssey into the historical annals of the Lion City. The show demands it be appreciated as such: the Tans in the foreground, the independence of Singapore only as context and a backdrop. Unfortunately, Singapura shoots itself in the foot by cramming in too much, muddling its script and toppling its poise.

Crucially, the company hopes to bring the story to the world stage. While local theatregoers may confuse Singapura with an elementary social studies class, an international audience won’t. After all, their perception of our fair city is built upon the concrete of Marina Bay Sands and not the rubble of our pre-1965 years.

And, really, even if Singaporeans are already aware of these pivotal moments, scenes like the Hock Lee bus riots, the race riots and the Konfrontasi have hardly – if ever – been enacted so vividly on our own stages.

It’s a shame that despite us going to a Saturday night show, the audience barely occupied a quarter of the theatre. Nonetheless, the cast soldiered on. Their acting borders on melodramatic at times, but most of the show is performed through song, and the power of their vocal chords is phenomenal. They are also well supported by the orchestra, which brought to life composer Ed Gatchalian’s melodic score.

Singapura still feels like a first draft. There’s a lot of polishing to be done before it becomes a story we can be proud of. They’ve already modified little things – they told us they’ve made alterations including ‘a lyric change here, a lighting change there; a shortened intro here, a blocking change there’ – but we’re hoping they’ll eventually get around to working on the more major issues, too.

And if they do, you can bet your ticket that we’ll be the first ones there.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Tribes’ Review

2 Jun 2015: Pangdemonium’s latest offering gives a voice to the deaf community while keeping things funny and lighthearted

★★★★☆

Photo: Crispian Chan

Photo: Crispian Chan

Over the last couple of years, Pangdemonium has been building a reputation for being a company unafraid to stage plays that deal with difficult issues. But with English playwright Nina Raine’s award-winning play Tribes, the cast and crew take things up a notch and achieve something truly hard-hitting, comical, and tender at the same time.

The play opens with a barrage of swear words as Christopher (Adrian Pang), his wife Beth (Susan Tordoff), their son Daniel (Gavin Yap) and daughter Ruth (Frances Lee) hurl barbs at one another over dinner. No one takes it too personally – that’s just the way they are. Meanwhile, the couple’s other son, the hearing-impaired Billy (Thomas Pang), sits quietly. He tries hard to follow the conversations flying over his head like missiles, but is usually brushed off with a ‘nothing, Billy’ when he asks what everyone’s fussing about.

It takes a while to get used to this high-strung family. Most of the first act is loud and brash, and with it comes a bit of over-acting as the characters attempt to make it clear that Daniel is a whiny 20-something, Ruth is an emotional wreck, Mum is exasperated and Dad is an a**hole.

In those early scenes, the characters seem to be mere caricatures who provide laughs but little depth, and the constant F-bombs soon start to feel as though they’re dropped for the sake of it. But then Billy’s girlfriend, Sylvia (Ethel Yap), enters the household, and her sweetness sparks a change in everyone. Not only does she give Billy a voice – quite literally by encouraging him to learn how to sign, as she’s on her way to becoming deaf, too – she also brings out a softer side to his rowdy family.

The cast shines after this point. They flesh out their characters well and show that beneath their colourful language are people who care for one another. Thomas deserves special mention: he’s making his professional debut with Tribes, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from his nuanced portrayal of the sweet yet isolated Billy. Ethel is another outstanding actor – she’s able to convincingly balance Sylvia’s bitterness and frustration about losing her hearing with her inherently loving nature.

Thanks to Tracie Pang’s expert direction, watching this group of actors is, indeed, like catching a glimpse of a tribe. We may not always agree – or even fathom – their way of dealing with things, but the chemistry that binds them together is apparent. And it doesn’t hurt that the set is a sight to behold. It may not be as loud or visually complicated as those in a few of Pangdemonium’s other shows, but Wong Chee Wai’s design nonetheless provides, in its own quiet way, a cosy backdrop for this dysfunctional family.

It’s evident the production achieves what it set out to do: give a voice and soul to a community that is largely ignored by the public. There are a lot of words that get tossed around here – either hilarious or hurtful – but by the time the curtain falls, we find that even when speech is taken away, so much can still be said.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Tempest’ Review

11 May 2015: Shakespeare in the Park returns for its seventh edition. Gwen Pew shares her thoughts on the production

★★★☆☆

Photo: Watson Lau

Photo: Watson Lau

The final rays of the sun fade into black. Moths, flies, bats and other creatures of the night emerge from the trees and flutter around spotlights. The odd pair of headlights blinks in the distance, then disappears.

At the front of the Fort Canning Park lawn, a huge open book towers over the audience on picnic mats, reminding us of the famous stage used in the 1999 performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. The book’s pages are covered in symbols and scribbles like a Da Vinci notebook, and enticingly lit. Combine all these elements and it seems like the perfect setting for the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s seventh edition of Shakespeare in the Park, The Tempest.

The story takes place on a magical island ‘full of noises, strange sounds and sweet melodies’. There, the wizardly Prospero (Simon Robson) – the rightful duke of Milan who was cast to sea by his usurping brother, Antonio (Matt Grey) and the conspiring Alonso, king of Naples (Ian Shaw) – has been living with his daughter, Miranda (Julie Wee), for the past 12 years. When Antonio and Alonso’s ship passes by the island one fateful day, Prospero sets his spirit servant, Ariel (Ann Lek), to stir up a storm that will safely bring everyone on board to shore. His plan: confront them and their past wrongdoings.

Did the production soar to the heights that we had hoped for? Sort of, but not quite. It’s enjoyable enough, but the sense of wonder wanes, and we never feel like we truly entered a ‘brave new world’. The set, as pretty as it is, does not serve much of a purpose, and quickly loses its appeal. The actors, likewise, deliver their lines as directed, but most of them don’t do justice to the beauty of the verses.

Robson’s Prospero, for instance, doesn’t come across as someone we should either pity or fear, while the chemistry between Wee’s Miranda and Timothy Wan’s Ferdinand – as fickle as their love-at-first-sight relationship may be – fizzles. The exceptions are Theo Ogundipe, who conveys with zest both the depravity and the tragedy of the deformed monster Caliban, and Daniel Jenkins and Shane Mardjuki, who make a great pair of drunken jesters as Stephano and Trinculo, respectively.

A couple of scenes are visually interesting – such as Ariel dancing between the massive blue cloth of a stormy ocean, or her taking the form of a gigantic bright red harpy to reprimand the usurpers – but they are, sadly, few and far between.

Overall, The Tempest is not much of a spectacle. It doesn’t stand out as a particularly bad performance, but it’s certainly not one of the company’s best, either. And yet, as one of the handful of annual events to encourage people to go to the park and enjoy an evening of literature under the stars, it serves its purpose.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Ragnarok’ Review

17 Apr 2015: Skinned Knee Production’s show takes us to some pretty dark, dirty places within the LGBT community, but Gwen Pew appreciates that it dared to go all the way

★★★★☆

Ragnarok

We’ve been to our fair share of productions that claim they will shock, and be dark, and talk about taboo subjects. Most of them end up being about as gritty as a smooth vanilla ice cream cone on a balmy summer’s day, but Ragnarok follows the talk through with actual action – plenty of it, too – and takes us all the way to the darkest corners of the LGBT community. Presented by Skinned Knee Productions, the play’s ending is somewhat predictable, and the journey there is not a comfortable one, but it does bring something refreshingly different to the local stage.

Upon entering The Substation’s black box theatre, we realised that we had walked straight into Asgard, a tacky gay club that borrowed its name from the home to the Norse gods. The show’s title, likewise, is a reference taken from Norse mythology – Ragnarok is a sort of doomsday that results in the death of the gods and the apocalypse, before two surviving humans repopulate the Earth. And while all the characters are also loosely based on the various deities, the actual series of events that take place is firmly rooted in the seedier side of the real world. The story begins when an aspiring writer, Dan (Tan Shou Chen), falls for the young, beautiful party boy, Alan (Mitchell Fang). Dan’s secret admirer, Lachlan (Bright Ong) – who is waiting for AIDS to drag him to the grave – becomes enraged at their blossoming romance. Violence comes in the form of vicious words, the drugging of drinks, rape and, ultimately, death.

The narrative is interspersed with monologues, as the characters take turns to embody the gods that they represent. While the constant, though sometimes abruptly-executed, parallel with the mythological world feels strange at first, it does become effective in illustrating the fatalistic, larger-than-life tale that unfolds once we get used to it. The production also covers a huge amount of ground, from the sense of rage and helplessness that many HIV/AIDS patients suffer from, to how some parents are unable to come to terms with their children’s – and sometimes even their own – sexuality, and the devastation at the thought that one will never be able to have their own child because of the disease. We do wish that some of these issues could be delved into further, but the work nonetheless delivers the hard-hitting punches that it set out to.

The script by Andrew Sunderland is sharp and witty, and we respect the director, Aole T Miller, for having the guts to never shy away from the more graphic elements of the show (which is rated R18). The cast, too, fully gave themselves to their parts: Ong makes an alluringly sadistic monster, while Fang depicts the very picture of a naïve youngster struggling to make sense of the world. Tan plays out his tragic fate heartbreakingly, and Rosemary McGowan is endearing in her role as Thora, who works with those affected by HIV/AIDS, and friends with Dan and Alan. As everything spirals out of control, a duo of club kids, called the Icicles (Sunderland and Chanel Ariel Chan), delight in adding fuel to the fire with a bunch of bitchy one-liners.

The only problem we really have with the play is the pacing. It currently stands at two hours with no intermission, but certain scenes – such as when Dan lucidly dances with Lachlan after being drugged – could definitely be cut shorter to make the whole thing even punchier. The original songs by Esther Low, who also plays the quiet bargirl Hallie, are nice, but do not add much to the production and drags on at times. It doesn’t help that another real-life bar behind The Substation started rocking out from behind the wall towards the end of the show, and completely overrides the chance of us catching the lyrics properly.

But ultimately, the production has the edge that we were looking for. Yes, it’s sordid, but we don’t feel that it’s sordid just for the sake of it – the script wouldn’t have been brought to life as colourfully if these scenes were taken out – though we will say that we wouldn’t suggest bringing someone to see this on your first date.