Deep look at bullying and parenting

The cast of Late Company (from left) Edward Choy, Adrian Pang, Xander Pang, Karen Tan and Janice Koh put up a nuanced performance.
The cast of Late Company (from left) Edward Choy, Adrian Pang, Xander Pang, Karen Tan and Janice Koh put up a nuanced performance.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

REVIEW / THEATRE

LATE COMPANY

Pangdemonium

Victoria Theatre/Last Saturday


The tension in Late Company is palpable even before the house lights dim and curtain rises on the play.

On a stylish set, Debora (Janice Koh) and Michael (Edward Choy) are literally setting the scene, laying place settings for a dinner.

But there are undercurrents of unease as they huddle in hushed exchanges, Debora knocks back a glass of wine while Michael disappears through the patio doors for a cigarette.

Their dinner guests - Tamara (Karen Tan), Bill (Adrian Pang) and their son Curtis (Xander Pang) - are late.

But what causes the unease, which erupts in tears and confrontation over the next 80 minutes, is the fact that Curtis might have driven Debora and Michael's son Joel to suicide with his bullying.

  • BOOK IT / LATE COMPANY

    WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Till March 10, 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 3 & 8pm (Saturdays), 3pm (Sundays), extra 8pm show on March 10

    ADMISSION: $55 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). For details, go to pangdemonium.com

Pangdemonium has displayed a real knack for staging handsome productions with socially relevant themes that resonate with audiences and Late Company is the latest example of its winning formula.

Under director Tracie Pang's assured hand, the veteran cast of actors playing the parents acquit themselves well.

They each bring a lifetime's experience to the play's fraught exchanges, which thankfully do not deteriorate into screaming matches despite the intensity.

The characters are recognisable ones: the emotional artist (Debora), the correct politician (Michael), the anxious peace-making matron (Tamara) and the slightly abrasive yuppie (Bill).

Playwright Jordan Tannahill was only 23 when he wrote this script. But he is canny enough to shade the characters with nuance to suggest rather than delineate stereotypes.

Does Bill's emphasis on sports suggest macho homophobia? Is Michael also homophobic despite his seemingly liberal stance?

Tamara's New Age prattling could signal either a desperation to mend fences or just middle-class vapidity. Debora's defence of her son's flamboyance could be seen either as emotionally supportive or wilful denial.

The fact that an almost-decade-old script from a young Canadian playwright has transplanted so well to Singapore also speaks volumes about the continuing relevance of the issues it addresses: bullying, homophobia, parenting in the 21st century.

As the parental couples spar, it becomes evident that the play is also about responsibility.

Who bears the responsibility when a teenager commits suicide: Is it the parents who fail to recognise the signs, the bully whose actions drive a boy to desperation, the school system which fails to arrest the bullying?

Each confrontation, as it turns the tables on different characters, throws up a different issue and more questions than the play answers. These difficult questions, which hopefully will spark more discussions in audiences, are the best reasons to spend time with this Company.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2019, with the headline 'Deep look at bullying and parenting'. Print Edition | Subscribe