SINGAPORE - Pangdemonium's latest play hides a dark pun in its title: Late Company. Tensions are high as guests are delayed arriving at a dinner party but the hosts are also mourning their dead son, who killed himself a year before.
The play, which runs at the Victoria Theatre from Feb 22 to March 10, explores family relationships, teen suicide, and the hazard of interpersonal disconnect in real life despite increased connections on social media.
Based on the shocking 2011 case of a bullied Ottawa teen who killed himself, the script by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill is startlingly relevant to Singapore.
One in nine adolescents here have been victims of cyber bullying. About 40 per cent of those bullied have turned into online tormentors themselves, according to a large-scale study by the Singapore Children's Society and the Institute of Mental Health in 2014.
Singapore had the second highest rate of cyber bullying worldwide - 58 per cent - according to a 2012 Microsoft study, ranking just after China. Learning this "just blew my mind", says Adrian Pang, who is joint artistic director of Pangdemonium with Tracie Pang.
In Late Company, directed by Tracie, Adrian plays Bill, whose son Curtis may have been responsible for the death of another teen. Edward Choy and Janice Koh play the dead teen's parents, Debora and Michael, who hope to find answers and closure by having Curtis and his family over to dinner.
The question is why Bill, his wife Tamara (Karen Tan) and Curtis accepted the invitation in the first place. As the conversation becomes more charged, why don't they just get up and go?
BOOK IT / LATE COMPANY
WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place
WHEN: Feb 22 to March 10. Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays, 3pm and 8pm, Sundays, 3pm (additional 8pm show on March 10)
ADMISSION: $25 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)
INFO: Advisory 16 (Mature Content)
Adrian says: "For Tamara and Bill, there's an element of being very protective of their son. In a way, they're there on the defensive, and offensive as well."
Tan adds: "Curtis is also the subject of trolls now. When is the punishment enough?"
Curtis is played by 19-year-old Xander Pang, son of Adrian and Tracie. "He had to look like one of the parents," jokes Tan.
The Pangs clarify that Xander was the only teen on the shortlist who did not have exams or national service scheduled during the play's run.
Has he ever experienced cyber bullying? No, but he knows it happens and that he is lucky. "I've just been raised with thick skin," he says, adding, "I've been surrounded by people who are comfortable with themselves and I'm comfortable with myself. For a lot of teenage boys especially, it's quite hard to find who you are as a person and what you want to be."
Good parenting and a supportive social circle help, but Late Company addresses the fact that, sometimes, teens who seem to have everything are still driven to take their own lives - or hurt others.
Tracie speaks of friends who have a child who commits self-harm. "It kills the parents and it's not their fault. They try to intervene. It's not as simple as there's one problem (to address)."
Tan says: "It can be very hurtful when you think you have done the most you can for your child and he or she still hurts herself or does these things. You ask why?"
Rather than give answers, Pangdemonium wants to start conversations about difficult topics. Tracie adds that the stigma around talking about suicide comes from a feeling of personal responsibility. "What does it say about you that you did not know that person was close to the edge?"
Koh, who plays the grieving mother Debora, adds that it is even worse when a teen kills himself. "People feel like it's contagious. But it's a topic worth exploring and talking about."