A dance between different world views

(From left) Koh Boon Pin, Dylan Jenkins and Emil Marwa star in Tango, the first of two original plays that Pangdemonium will put on this year.
(From left) Koh Boon Pin, Dylan Jenkins and Emil Marwa star in Tango, the first of two original plays that Pangdemonium will put on this year. PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

Different opinions on what constitutes a family are highlighted in Pangdemonium's original play Tango

A family meal out turned into a disturbing scene when a waitress became agitated over the fact that her customers were a same-sex couple and their two sons.

The incident ended the couple's plans of returning to Singapore. It also inspired Pangdemonium co-founders Tracie and Adrian Pang to commission an original play showing both sides of the story.

Tango, written by Joel Tan, runs from May 19 to June 4 at the Drama Centre Theatre.

"We're not trying to court controversy," director Tracie Pang says of the play. "We're trying to tell a story about a different family trying to fit in here and why it's a struggle for them."

  • BOOK IT / TANGO

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: May 19 to June 4, 8pm Tuesdays to Fridays, 3 and 8pm Saturdays, 3pm Sundays. Additional 8pm show on June 4

    ADMISSION: $20 to $65 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: R18 (homosexual theme)

Tango is the first of two original plays Pangdemonium will put on this year, a new direction for the troupe known for staging hits from Broadway or the West End. The other new work is Dragonflies, written by Singapore-born Stephanie Street and commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Tracie Pang, 49, says the troupe will continue looking at strong existing scripts as well as generate its own. "It's the natural progression for us. We felt comfortable enough to create our own stories."

The first story she wanted to tell was that of 40somethings Mark and Ed Koh-Waite, who met in Singapore, married in London in 2006 and now live in London with the two sons they adopted in 2010.

Mark Koh-Waite, a British citizen, was the artistic director of the now-defunct Escape Theatre troupe in Singapore until 2007. He moved to London with his partner, who is in banking. Now he teaches drama and writes an award-winning blog about parenting and adoption, titled 4 Relative Strangers.

Around 2014, he was offered a job in Singapore. The couple were keen to return so their sons could spend more time with Singapore-born Ed's parents.

During a visit here, a waitress at a Chinese restaurant argued with them over the fact that they were a same-sex couple with children. She refused to believe that the children had two fathers and started asking them about their mother. She also banged cutlery on the table, according to the Koh-Waites.

They asked for another waitress, finished eating and left, realising their sons might face worse problems if they moved back.

Coincidentally, this was the year furore erupted over the National Library Board's decision to remove several books from the children's section for highlighting alternative family structures. Among them was And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins hatching an egg together.

The play Tango has nothing to do with that book, say both director and playwright, despite a promotional visual that shows a boy in a penguin suit.

Playwright Tan, 30, says: "The name's a little misleading but it's the idea of this dance between different world views. I understand my own point of view is the product of a very liberal background."

When he heard the Koh-Waites' story, he felt for them, but also for the waitress.

"It's just terrible for them to have to face that. It's everything you fear about coming back to Singapore and your kids see it happening.

"On the other hand, I had a tremendous amount of empathy for this waitress. I go to these restaurants, I know these ladies. They're just products of a different set of circumstances."

The script is fictional but loosely based on reality. Koh Boon Pin and Emil Marwa play a same-sex couple who return to Singapore with their son, played by Dylan Jenkins. The cast also includes Lim Kay Siu, Lok Meng Chue, Anita Kapoor, Benjamin Chow and Ruzaini Mazani.

The director says of her casting choices: "I didn't want to go down the avenue of doing caricatures or recreations of these people. I needed to hear the voice that Joel was creating and the understanding of what it means to be a parent and what we'd do to protect our children."

The Koh-Waites attended an early reading of the play and approve of it. They say they are not sharing their experiences to court controversy, but to show that they are parents like any other.

Mark Koh-Waite, 47, says: "What we want people to come away with is the idea that family is family."

Ed Koh-Waite, 43, adds: "And family comes in all shapes and sizes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'A dance between different world views'. Print Edition | Subscribe