Staging new scripts can be daunting, and even more so when these scripts mark their writers’ stage debuts. But in The Second Breakfast Company’s second outing, they’re going big and presenting an ambitious double bill of two completely new plays, both of which tackle mature topics beyond their young writers’ ages, and are promising starts should they choose to continue down this route in the future. The Second Breakfast Company is doing good work in attempting to nurture and showcase these new talents, and we’re hopeful that what we’ve seen tonight is a precursor to even better things to come.
Prior to the show, as audience members settled in, house music played consisting of classical instrumental music, bringing to mind soundtrackts used for wedding marches and even church hymns, cleverly referencing the content of both plays to come and setting the mood for the evening.
Lemmings by Myle Yan Tay
Lemmings follows young couple John (Terrance Tan) and Cassandra (Rachel Chin) who are, for the most part, happy. But when an argument erupts over their conflicting religious beliefs one night, it might spell doom for them once and for all. Here, the agnostic John accuses Christian Cassandra as an eponymous lemming, recalling the phenomenon of how a group of lemmings will blindly follow a leader if one jumps off a cliff, a familiar metaphor raised by outsiders seeking to find fault in the troubled institution of cults. With such loose accusations thrown about, it’s not hard to see why the initially civil discussion quickly deteriorates into enraged shouting and angered sobs.
First written as part of Theatreworks’ 24-Hour Playwriting Competition in 2010, Lemmings shows its age, written by a then teenage Myle Yan Tay. Despite having gone through several revisions and edits, including more overt, timely references to religious organizations asking for donations from their followers, Lemmings suffers from the occasional leaps in logic and pacing issues. While Cassandra’s backstory is a relatable one, with Rachel Chin encapsulating the portrayal of a typical churchgoer, John’s story falls just a little too far from the zone of belief for him to hold such a lifelong grudge. John’s character has an understandable arc, but perhaps, was a little too overblown and difficult to enjoy as a person to really side with. Though Yan does touch on the familiar arguments between both sides of the neverending debate for/against religion, it’s one that scratches at the surface, and never quite reaches levels where we can fully invest in the fight that plays before us, retreading points we’ve heard time and time again. The chemistry between Rachel and Terrance was also lacking for a couple that has been together for 23 months.
That being said, both John and Cassandra remain familiar archetypes one might have encountered before, and their lines for the most part might well have been words exchanged in heated conversation between friends in real life. Lemmings has the right framework to be built upon and go even deeper into the religious debate, given more tweaks and thought. For now though, it paints a serviceable enough picture of the potential pitfalls that a modern couple still might go through, and the fragility of a relationship built on sweeping hard truths under the carpet. One hopes to see even more creative risks from Yan in his future works, completely possible with the foundations we’ve seen laid out tonight.
The Wedding Pig by Chelsea Cheo Baoyun
After a brief intermission, the second, longer play of the night began. In The Wedding Pig, following the death of their mother, two sisters go down very different paths: Leah (Jelaine Ng Sha-Men) rushes into a marriage with fiance Zach (Jeramy Lim), while Debbie (Tia Andrea Guttensohn) falls back on happier times, looking through old fridge magnets from past holidays. Naturally in the ensuing stress of it all, the sisters clash, particularly when a prized family heirloom comes into play.
Chelsea’s script is still very much the product of a scriptwriter still in the beginning stages of her career, but shows promise in her familiar, well rounded characters. There are times where scenes drag on just a little too long, particularly when arguments between characters devolve into a matter of who can counter with the most sarcastic comeback. It’s also slightly frustrating that the central conflict of the eponymous ‘pig’ is more a minor hindrance than a real issue, and is easily smoothed over simply over the passage of time, with the only action required from the sisters being a visit to each other’s homes, as opposed to confronting the deeper issues of grief that are so obviously affecting both sisters in increasingly dangerous ways.
However, Chelsea occasionally comes up with lines that are genuinely moving, such as Tia Andrea Guttensohn’s darkly humorous self help speech as she asks herself ‘what am I thankful for today?”, a familiar coping exercise. Guttensohn also possesses strong stage presence and a clear voice, and well portrays the hot mess that Debbie has descended into. Jelaine Ng’s Leah is a little more problematic, seeming like she should show semblances of having a clearer head on her shoulders, but more often than not descending into a stereotypical hysterical bride-to-be. Given the context of the sisters’ recent tragedy, this is somewhat understandable, but does feel occasionally jarring. Even so, Jelaine gave a spirited, energetic performance, that allowed audiences to feel for her character, awash in stress and a bundle of nerves, and made us want to care for her in her distressed state.
Ultimately, The Wedding Pig does make a valiant attempt to showcase a believable dysfunctional family falling apart in the face of tragedy, remaining staunchly grounded and occasionally fun despite its dark undertones. Chelsea Cheo knows how to write the unique, private language between close knit family members that seems completely alien to outsiders but perfectly familiar between blood relations, and one hopes to see this further developed in future works. For now, The Wedding Pig is enjoyable enough for a glimpse of what Cheo is capable of, and certainly, is a good start to a future in theatre.
Photo Credit: Gordon Khoo
Performance attended 2/11/17
Lemmings and The Wedding Pig play at the Centre 42 Blackbox from 2nd – 5th November. The production is almost sold out, save for some matinee tickets remaining on 4th and 5th November, available from SISTIC
If you want to be involved with The Second Breakfast Company, they will be holding auditions for their upcoming production of Goh Poh Seng’s The Moon Is Less Bright in December, to be staged in May 2018. Follow them on Facebook for more information. You can also support their IndieGogo campaign here