Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia
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“Dragonflies”: The Foreseeable Truth Hurts

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By Isaac Lim

(514 words, 5-minute read)

A large red-orange hued, tile-patterned cloth dramatically falls in a Kabuki drop, then rain falls on stage. The year is 2022, Brexit is complete and Trump has won a second term. The stage is set for a showdown between ‘the locals’ and ‘the foreigners’. Dragonflies, written by Pangdemonium’s resident playwright Stephanie Street and directed by Tracie Pang, takes a scary look at a possible near future, yet perhaps leaves too little to the imagination.

UK-based Leslie Chen (played by Adrian Pang) is forced to return to Singapore following the passing of his wife Sandra (Victoria Mintey). The reason? He is unable to inherit their family home because new rules state that foreigners aren’t allowed to own property anymore. His ward, a very vocal Maxine (Selma Alkaff) is still underage. Together they pack their bags for a Singapore that is just as foreign to them.

The camaraderie of the ensemble cast helps keep the story going. This includes Tan Kheng Hua, who is scathing with her casual racism as Leslie’s sister Annabel, yet whose consternation is strangely relatable; and Frances Lee who plays Agnes, a domestic helper from the Philippines, as a feisty woman who will fight for her rights. It is, however, Thomas Pang who stands out for the many supporting characters he plays, including a hilariously annoying hospital nurse and a difficult, paranoid, north-east Indian refugee.

However, even with excellent acting, the play falls into being draggy and, at many times, didactic. Patchy writing makes it is difficult to understand some of the characters’ drives, especially in scenes where tempers flare seemingly unnecessarily. One of these comes when Leslie’s mother Margaret (Fanny Kee) appears angry about everything when she is in the UK; we don’t see what provokes her, just her being nasty. In another scene, Thomas Pang inhabits a rowdy, racist Singaporean causing trouble with everyone else in the Botanic Gardens, no rhyme or reason provided. The script fails in such scenes when it cannot generate racial tensions from organic dialogue, and instead takes on an instructive tone. The argument of ‘us-vs-them’ is put on repeat, with different voices singing the same lyrics.

The set, designed by Kwok Wai Yin, is simple but versatile, its raised semicircle transporting the audience to the different cities where the action happens. Actors bring on and remove props to indicate the locations: a house in coastal Dorset, a lawn at Singapore’s Botanic Gardens, a riot at Tekka Market. Perpetual rain to signify the cold wet days in the UK is also contextualized and explained, no thanks to Global Warming. Sound design by Jing Ng and lighting by James Tan complete the distinction between the cities.

In the final scene, another large piece of red-orange cloth is raised to form a tepee that shelters the father-daughter pair, who have moved to flood-stricken Kolkata to become humanitarian relief volunteers. Maxine is pregnant. Leslie’s worldview has radically changed. And they are migrants once again, but they now share a renewed faith in humanity, despite the racial tensions the floods have exacerbated. Perhaps, as Maxine goes into labour with her mixed race child, there is hope yet for the future.

 

Selected Reviews

Dragonflies by Pangdemonium” by Ng Yi-sheng (SIFA blog)

Dragonflies Drags On” by Cordelia Lee (Centre42 Theatre Reviews)

“SIFA 2017: Dragonflies by Pangdemonium (Review)” (bakchormeeboy)

Dragonflies” by Naeem Kapadia (Crystalwords)


Dragonflies was written by Stephanie Street, directed by Tracie Pang and presented by Pangdemonium Theatre, as part of the 2017 Singapore International Festival of Arts. It ran from 24 – 26 August at the Victoria Theatre. This review is based on the performance on 25 August 2017, 8pm.

Isaac Lim is a full-time daydreamer and most-of-the-time writer. He holds an Honourrs degree in Theatre Studies from NUS, is a copywriter, playwright, theatregoer. He likes the word ‘and’ because it brings about many possibilities, and can be found on IG through #ZacGoesToTheTheatre.

This review is part of the Performance Criticism Mentorship Programme initiated by National Arts Council and organised by ArtsEquator. It is a six-month programme during which theatre critic and mentor Matthew Lyon guides mentees Isaac Lim and Patricia Tobin in reviewing one performance a month from July to December 2017.

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