Queer and ordinary

Let's Get Back Together (above) is woven from interviews with people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Singapore.
Let's Get Back Together (above) is woven from interviews with people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Singapore.PHOTO: RED PILL PRODUCTIONS

REVIEW / THEATRE

LET'S GET BACK TOGETHER

Red Pill Productions

Flexible Performance Space, Lasalle College of the Arts

Sunday

Red Pill Productions' performance at the Singapore Theatre Festival is woven from interviews with people who privately or publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Singapore.

Let's Get Back Together, which ended its run on Sunday, is directed by Mark Ng, who also co-wrote the script in collaboration with Kimberly Arriola and Kenneth Chia.

It was initially staged in 2014 and has been updated to reflect new realities, including conservative movements against the annual Pink Dot event, which pushes for queer rights.

A cast of six enacts coming-out tales, stories of abandonment, of body-shaming and of what it is like to live knowing that Section 377A of the Penal Code still criminalises homosexuality.

Official assurances that it will be deployed lightly do not alleviate the bitter uneasiness of living with a sword over the head.

It is a brave and honest performance, but at first presents the argument for tolerance and understanding in the black-and-white, us-versus-them manner that is unlikely to win over the undecided. It is an unfortunate reality that even horrors lose their power to shock when the shape of each story is so familiar.

The desire to honour participants' honesty is one of the pitfalls of verbatim theatre. Creators are perhaps hesitant to junk a story or fuse it with another similar tale, even though that would make the script tighter.

To better grab attention, these tales might also have been told with a more consistent use of physical theatre, such as when male and female actors mirror-dance to reflect the characters' fluid notions of gender.

Multimedia from Kimberly Ong and lighting by T.K. Hay also add new dimensions to the old stories.

Projections on screens around the stage (set design by Elizabeth Kow) create different home interiors. At one point, the screens mercilessly replicate the experience of a writer told to remove homosexual subtext from her writing. The words blank out as they appear.

The 90-minute performance revives at the halfway mark when it moves into unfamiliar territory. There are reflections on the comfort to be found in seemingly conservative religions. There are poignant statements of self-acceptance that remind viewers that queer folk are normal folk too.

There are also stories of acceptance, love and friendship from those who do not identify as queer, stories that are all the more powerful for being true.

The characters mature on stage, coming to terms with their own identities, and so do their families and friends.

A wistful hope lingers that this might one day be true for the country as a whole and that, one day, the unfamiliar part of this performance will be the cliche.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Queer and ordinary'. Print Edition | Subscribe