Theatre review: Adrian Pang makes The Weight Of Silk On Skin his own

One could easily believe The Weight Of Silk On Skin was written expressly for Adrian Pang. He plays the upper-class, middle-aged libertine John Au Yong with apparent effortlessness, drawing us into his story with his charming cynicism and masculine charisma.

Over the course of 80 minutes, he dresses himself in a three-piece suit in preparation for a fundraiser, sharing his thoughts and recollections all the while. He makes us laugh with his impressions of '80s New Yorkers and '90s Singaporeans, scandalises us with graphic descriptions of sex, and ultimately devastates us with his tale of how he lost the love of his life and will do anything to win her back.

When Silk premiered in 2011, it starred Ivan Heng - playwright Huzir Sulaiman actually wrote it with him in mind. But while Heng's poetic delivery of the text earned him a Life! Theatre Awards Best Actor nomination, many a viewer found it hard to watch without recalling his many drag comedy roles.

In contrast, Pang fits the part of John to a T. He has, after all, played similarly rakish figures in The Full Monty and Closer. But this is no stock performance: he modulates the text far more than Heng, adding unexpected notes of mischief or anger to the script, keeping it fresh.

Director Tracie Pang also brings a new vision to the play. Instead of the bare proscenium of the old production, she has chosen a set that mimics a sleekly designed walk-in closet, complete with lounge chair, washbasin with shaving mirror and whiskey cabinet. This provides manifold opportunities for stage business: when John waxes lyrical about tailoring, he gestures to his suits; when he describes being mugged, he re-enacts it with a dressmaker's dummy.

All this is complemented by light and sound design that is stylish, subtle and occasionally surprising. For instance, John's return to tropical Singapore is marked by a sudden glare of house lights, making us reflexively squint.

In sum, this revival is sexier, more sophisticated, and altogether superior to the original. It thoroughly deserves a restaging.

On a final note, one could argue that the play is far more political today than four years ago. With our heightened awareness of Singapore's inequality, John comes across as a somewhat loathsome figure: a privileged fat-cat one-percenter who contributes nothing to society.

Nevertheless, by the show's end, we are willing to weep for him. That truly is proof of this play's greatness.

The Weight of Silk on Skin is sold out. For more information, go to www.thestudios.com.sg