Review: Falling by Pangdemonium

Falling 28/5/16 8pm

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Pangdemonium returns for their second show of the season with another play about disabilities, following hot on the heels of last year’s Tribes. This time, the focus is autism, and follows the day in the life of an 18 year old boy with severe autism, and his family’s struggles.
Primary caregiver and mother Tami (Tan Kheng Hua) spends most of her day taking care of her autistic son Josh (Andrew Marko), and is supported by her husband Bill (Adrian Pang) and exasperated daughter Lisa (newcomer Fiona Lim). The play spends the majority of the first fifteen or so minutes going through the rituals and habits a family might have to go through when taking care of an autistic child, from safe code words, to using ritual-like techniques to calm and coerce the son into doing something he refuses to. The usual routine is interrupted by the arrival of Bill’s mother (Neo Swee Lin), who steals the scenes she appears in as a Bible quoting, but well-meaning grandma, adding a dose of humour to the otherwise intense play, misinterpreting and underestimating what it takes to raise an autistic child. The rest of the play follows the family through the day, encountering violent outbursts, threats of leaving the family, and death dreams, revealing the dark struggles each person goes through when faced with the daunting task of taking care of and living with a disabled family member.

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I’ll be damned if Tan Kheng Hua doesn’t win best actress at the next Life! Theatre Awards. This is almost certainly one of her best roles to date. The role of Tami allowed her to showcase the darkest fears of a mother – that she might not love her own son, just one of the highlights of her amazing performance, amongst being pinned to a wall while being choked and tender moments where the audience truly feels her love and care for Josh with her patience. Her performance alone is enough to carry the entire play through to its ambiguous end, by which time you’ll be exhausted by the empathy you feel for her character. She’s backed up by just as strong a cast, with Andrew Marko doing a commendable job of portraying an autistic person, completely losing himself in the role and saying mostly indecipherable lines, yet speaking volumes. All in all, this was a spectacular performance from the cast, and every single member should be commended for a job well done.
Once again, Wong Chee Wai has designed an amazingly true to life set, mimicking the interior of a typical Singaporean home. So much attention is paid to detail, from the photos of the children hung on the wall, to the balcony of potted plants and recognizable window grilles. The lighting from James Tan isn’t immediately noticeable, but is also amazingly well executed, with light shining in through the windows resembling the way actual light comes in, and even changes from white to orange as the day progresses.

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Overall, Falling is yet another fantastic addition to Pangdemonium’s steady stream of stellar productions, and might even be their best one yet. Come for the under discussed subject matter, stay for the award worthy performance. Be warned that this is not a happy play and offers no solutions, only that the next time you see a mother struggling with her autistic child in public, to shoot them a knowing glance, and not judge them.

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