Polished, witty takes on racism

(From left) Neo Hai Bin, Pavan J. Singh and Thomas Pang are friends and colleagues.
(From left) Neo Hai Bin, Pavan J. Singh and Thomas Pang are friends and colleagues.PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY



Esplanade Presents: The Studios/

Esplanade Theatre Studio/Thursday

Singaporean playwright Haresh Sharma is a keen observer of what is not said in society and is adept at framing such an issue in fun and refreshing ways that help everyone confront them.

Sharma, who is from drama group The Necessary Stage, is being celebrated this month and the next in the Esplanade's theatre showcase The Studios.

This Chord And Others, which debuted here in 1991, is one of his hits, largely for its witty takes on racism. It brims with bonhomie and is told in a whirr of flashbacks, bookended by an almighty falling out among three close friends- cum-colleagues, namely Sukhdev Singh (a reliably authoritative Pavan J. Singh), Gerald Fong (a true-to-form Neo Hai Bin) and Thomas Conceicao (a seemingly effortless Thomas Pang).

The young bankers come to blows over the chance of a career promotion, as well as tone-deaf Thomas' pestering that they take part in a Talentime contest.

Their bust-up is only hinted at, but it leaves Sukhdev with swollen eyes and ears, Thomas with broken arms and Gerald bound up like a mummy.

For much of the show, they are dressed in short-sleeved shirts like schoolboys, with an eagerness and energetic moves to match.

Sometimes, they assume other characters, regardless of their race, language or religion. So Singh, for one, morphs into Gerald's father Mr Fong, with his bitter jibes at a son who lives out, has converted to Christianity and goes by a Western name that sounds like "giraffe".

It makes for much hilarity and introspection. Love, they show the audience, transcends creeds, curbs and complexions.

Such tenderness means that Sharma's punches feel like nudges. One minute, Sukhdev is yelling racial insults at Gerald, then scrambling eggs for him next. Gerald's mangling of "this chord" into "discord" barely registers as cynicism.

There are, however, poignant musings on racial prejudice, especially when Thomas, a free-spirited Eurasian, wants to migrate because, as a Singaporean, he does not like being referred to officially as "Others".

Director Timothy Nga gives Sharma's lines fluidity, intensity and urgency.

Pang deserves a special mention for fleshing out Thomas so vividly.

All told, it was polished, enjoyable but not quite provocative.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Polished, witty takes on racism'. Print Edition | Subscribe