Let down by overwriting

Grind puts together the stories of four gay Singaporean men.
Grind puts together the stories of four gay Singaporean men.PHOTO: ACEPIX

Grind, about issues confronting gays, has its heart in the right place but script needs editing

REVIEW / THEATRE

GRIND

Toy Factory Productions

Drama Centre Black Box

Last Friday

Grind is a production with a good heart, good performers and a script that cannot always bear the weight of its intentions.

The play puts together the stories of four gay Singaporean men.

  • BOOK IT / GRIND

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street, National Library Building, Level 5

    WHEN: Till Saturday, 8pm (tomorrow to Thursday), 3 and 8pm (Friday and Saturday)

    ADMISSION: $42 from www.toyfactory.com.sg/tickets

    INFO: Restricted to audiences 18 years and above

Long (Mitchell Fang) is an activist angry that he is unable to buy Housing Board property or adopt a daughter. Pang (Chong Woon Yong) wants his beloved older sister to bless his marriage to another man. Gan (Stanley Seah) is torn between church disapproval of same-sex love and his budding sexuality. Tian (Juni Goh) is a deeply insecure gym rat desperate for social media approval since he receives none in real life.

On paper, these are stereotypes. On the curved plinths designed by Chris Chua, each character comes alive with individual appeal.

Putting marginalised characters on elevated platforms heightens the idea of their alienation from society and later, emphasises their plight as they jump down and engage with the audience seated on the floor.

The actors in character navigate a social minefield and as performers, they navigate a minefield of legs, bags and bits of sculpted foam rubber which are at one point thrown into the air to mimic fire raining down on Sodom.

The set glories in being unsubtle. Globules hang from the ceiling, evoking cocoons, condoms and the contents of both.

Some globules turn into much-needed lamps in the dark theatre - a neat trick by lighting designer Tai Zi Feng. Others unfold to form net tents the performers shroud themselves in at various points, hiding from the world.

Director-playwright Goh Boon Teck's choice of immersive theatre works despite some unnecessary absurdities, such as when the audience is misted with squirt bottles tucked into the performers' crotches.

The script, co-written by Goh and newer talent Shar Pi'ee, also swings between tight, neat sketches that draw appreciative laughs and overwriting.

Some parts are overloaded with words, denying the actors the chance to express their characters in pauses and body language. Pang's hurt after his sister's rejection would have been better served by three lines and bitter silence, instead of a long-winded rant. Gan's distress at his dilemma is weakened with similes such as his feeling of being stuck on a satay stick.

Long and Tian's lines are the best-written: economical and delivered by Fang and Goh respectively with power, not just force.

One of the best scenes is when these two actors parody last year's face-off between queer rights movement Pink Dot and the Wear White campaign by religious groups. Fang, as Long, tries to tell the audience why he disagrees with Section 377a of the Penal Code, which criminalises gay sex, but his arguments have to compete with Goh's flamboyant turn as a woman demonstrating how to make old-school kueh. "Must cut in straight lines," she says.

Such sublimely ridiculous moments are what make this Grind rewarding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Let down by overwriting'. Print Edition | Subscribe