Red Pill Productions’ Let’s Get Back Together (or rather unsubtly, LGBT) was first staged in 2014, and W!ld Rice has revived it for the 2016 Singapore Theatre Festival with an all new cast, consisting Ezzat Alkaff, Ann Lek, Ruzaini Mazani, Eleanor Tan, Jo Tan and Zachary Ibrahim.
LGBT is a play much in the same vein as Alfian Sa’at’s Cooling Off Day, in that it uses interviews conducted to devise a complete play, which the ensemble then dramatises. In this case, interviews with members of the LGBTQ community in Singapore, to present stories of their plight and struggles in their daily lives. The play is conveniently divided into various segments surrounding different themes, from accounts of family reactions to gay people, growing up queer, being queer in the public sphere, as well as sexuality in a religious context.
LGBT is refreshingly honest and down to earth. Most of the interviews presented are genuine, relatable accounts that paint a picture of what it’s like to grow up on the margins of Singapore, ostracised by both parents and peers. Some of the interviewees are also recognizable, prolific members of the community itself, such as ‘Tania’ and ‘Otto’, who offer some of the wisest words of all. The accounts are by all means tragic, but also have a good dose of humour. In the ‘school’ section, a woman describes her convent school’s ridiculous policies, where they forced all the girls to have long hair and even hired an ‘ex-lesbian’ to have weekly talkback sessions with the students. Characters retain their interviewees’ tics, such as a lisp, or dramatic gesticulations, and this only adds to the illusion that we are witnessing real life interviews unfold before our very eyes. This was of course, aided by the strong music choices, which never felt forced and only added to the mood.
Thanks to some very capable members of the ensemble, LGBT brings across exactly the message it is going for – a cry for understanding of what it means to be queer in 21st century Singapore and the obstacles preventing queers from living a ‘normal’ life. Jo Tan is always a joy to watch onstage and she truly was the MVP of the night, such as her portrayal of ‘Pat’ when they question why they were put on earth by God, when their life seems like such a joke, or her very spirited monologue lifted from the We Are Against Pink Dot Facebook group, sinister and complete with dark, foreboding music. Even her portrayal of a lisping lesbian woman describing the process of getting a child could have gone wrong in the hands of a less capable actress, but Tan handles the monologue with aplomb and sincerity.
Eleanor Tan also delivered a strong performance, her portrayal of a transgender man frustrated at the loss of his manhood upon reaching puberty poetic, and also crushing. This was particularly effective in one of the first few scenes, where she performed a mirror dance with Ruzaini Mazani, who played a transgender woman, and each mirrored the other’s actions in a series of theatre exercises that was at once haunting and resonating. Special mention also goes out to Zachary Ibrahim for his strong performance as drag performer Mistevious, who passes comment on why drag is more socially acceptable than seeing ordinary men hold hands and kiss (answer: it’s the idea that drag is all a performance and thus not real). As a series of monologues, there really is little to no chance for the cast to perform as an ensemble, but the script cleverly allows characters such as friends and relatives to appear midway through the lines, and even arrange lines to almost form a poetic conversation by the end of the play, where the cast gathers and reacts to each other in a group.
Ultimately though, LGBT still ends up painting an incomplete picture of the LGBTQ community. A monologue from Reverend Miak Siew of the Free Community Church mentions that the community should first look at its own prejudices, from racism and classism, and that he dreams one day we can truly call ourselves one united nation. LGBT sidesteps internal problems within the community itself in favour of highlighting external factors as caricature type antagonists within the play to ridicule them. This is of course understandable and perfectly fine, but I only wish the team could have included an even more diverse range of interviews offering more insight and a more well rounded look at the community, and not just a series of tragic or at times, hopeful stories that was basically 90 minutes of ‘us against them’.
Nonetheless, a good effort on Red Pill Production’s part in activism, and we look forward to see what they come up with next. Quite appropriately, the play ends with a joyous monologue from Ivan Heng, commenting on his marriage to partner Tony Trickett, and leaves the audience with the hope that LGBT eventually becomes a time capsule of the past, and not a reflection of the current times.
Pictures are courtesy of Red Pill Productions.