Pangdemonium’s Late Company: An Interview with Adrian Pang, Karen Tan and Xander Pang
Pangdemonium opens their 2019 season with the Asian premiere of Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill’s Late Company. Touching on the ever pertinent issue and changing face of bullying, Late Company is set to be a tense production as two couple come together for a belated dinner party, following the suicide of one of their sons. Directed by Tracie Pang, we spoke to cast members Adrian Pang, Karen Tan and Xander Pang to find out a little more about the show and what to expect before it premieres. Read the interviews in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about your character and how you’ve been preparing for the role.
Adrian: My character Bill is pretty much a traditional “man’s man” who is unwillingly forced to face up to a fast-changing world. He is an opinionated man who speaks his mind and finds it difficult hiding his strong views. Which is why this dinner party is particularly irksome for him because he has been told by his wife Tamara that he has to be especially sensitive to the delicate situation and not shoot his mouth off. While acknowledging that his son Curtis does indeed bear some responsibility for the suicide of his hosts’ own son, he is also a protective dad, and has very firm convictions about the mitigating circumstances surrounding the tragedy. He’s also embarrassingly hilarious in a very politically incorrect way.
I’ve been drawing inspiration from certain individuals I know from my extended family, to build the character of Bill – the bluntness, the pathological need to be confrontational, the stubbornness, the shameless prejudices, the knotty ball of contradictions. He’s a very fascinating character to play.
Bakchormeeboy: How did Pangdemonium come across Late Company, and why did the company decide to stage it as the first show of 2019? What kind of tone do you feel it sets for the rest of the season?
Adrian: I happened to read a review about the play when it was staged in London, and was very intrigued by the premise of a dinner party that nobody really wants to be at, and where the spectre of a dead boy hangs over the dinner table. I got hold of the script, read it through in one intense sitting, shared it with Tracie, and we knew at once that this story was definitely one that Pangdemonium had to tell: it’s a gripping and multi-layered drama, full of tension and poignancy (and even some laughs), it’s intelligent and emotional and also has a primal, visceral universality to it. Crucially it has so much to say, or rather it has so many questions to ask about so many issues that affect us all in the volatile and fragile times we are living in, which makes it the perfect production to kick off our 2019 Present Tense/Future Perfect Season.
Bakchormeeboy: Over the course of rehearsals, what would you say are some of the challenges Pangdemonium has faced in putting up this production, if any?
Adrian: The script for Late Company was written by Jordan Tannahill (a young genius, and who, incidentally, is flying into Singapore to be our guest at our Gala Night) was set in Canada, and had many references that were particular to that country’s context. We have made the decision to adapt it to a Singapore context, with the playwright’s blessings. And this has meant that we are making some changes to some of the play’s references, which has proved to be an interesting challenge. Much as the situation in the play is very rooted in harsh reality, exploring themes which are very pertinent and urgent, this play also makes us have to imagine a heightened version of this reality, because the tragedy has pushed reality to a whole new extreme.
Bakchormeeboy: What is the biggest reason why Singaporeans should come to watch this show, and how do you hope they come away feeling?
Adrian: Hand on my heart, I think this play has so much for us Singaporeans to think about, because it explores so many themes that will resonate with everyone: cyberbullying, our ever-mutating youth culture, modern parenting in a fast-changing 21st century world, mental health in our age of anti-social media alienation, the “snowflake/strawberry generation” phenomenon, society’s collective duty in raising children, creating a support system for “the meek” to help them protect and empower themselves, and exactly what kind of world we are leaving future generations to inherit. It also examines our human capacity for vindictiveness and revenge on one end of the spectrum, and compassion and forgiveness on the other, and questions our ability to learn lessons from it all.
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about the character you play and how you’ve been preparing for the role.
Karen: I play Tamara, the mother of Curtis, the boy who was a known bully of Joel, whose parents we visit, in the hope of finding some closure and forgiveness for the incidents. The bullying is assumed to have led to Joel committing suicide. Already from writing these 2 sentences, I feel like I’ve created a kind of defence (in trial terms) for the accused – I’ve carefully chosen words to ensure that I’ve said what is enough to describe the story, without putting in any biases, and also stating that I want to be neutral about the whole thing, both as actor and character.
Bakchormeeboy: What were some of the thoughts that ran through your head when you first read the script, and what made you decide to take on this role?
Karen: I was given an electronic and hard copy of the script, but didn’t read both because of sheer laziness, so I only read it through the first time at the company read. I was gripped by terror at the weird shallow mind of Tamara, at the same time, also held by a great sort of kindness about her – I truly believe that there are thousands of Tamaras in the world who can go through a terrible tragedy, and still come out saying, I’m okay because I bought some flowers today, and flowers make things a bit better. It’s only because she feels everyone should do the same, that makes her hard to take.
Bakchormeeboy: What are your own experiences with bullying like, be it in yourself or people around you, and would you say that with the rise of cyberbullying, does it become more difficult to keep in check than the bullying of before?
Karen: At 10, in the bus on the way to school, a man sat next to me, and placed his fingers next to my breast and start touching and stuff. That’s bullying at the Assault end (as opposed to online/unseen) – I took a deep breath and said What Are You Doing? He got down the next stop. Nobody helped me, or asked me what had happened. Often, that’s bullying too.
Many will argue that it isn’t.
So, MY PERSONAL DEFINITION of bullying is, simply, making sure that someone(s) know that you are better/stronger/more powerful than them. If it can be done daily, at regular intervals, in unpredictable ways, the better.
Cyberbullying is harder to track than physical bullying obviously because of its hidden nature. We all know that bullies are cowards when alone; cyberbullying often is about being alone. And because it’s cyber, therefore “remote” and “not real”, it’s so much harder to tell someone and get help. It’s pretty bad, as bad as coming home with a bleeding nose, and saying there’s a group of kids but you don’t dare to say their names.
Bakchormeeboy: As a parent yourself, do you think the current generation of kids have an easier or more difficult time growing up?
Karen: Growing up is just very hard lah. Even stone age kids had difficulty rolling enough rocks to cover the holes to their shared caves, for some privacy.
Janice (Koh)’s character, Debora, says: How I want the world to be starts in my home.
That holds true in my home.
When I got married and moved to the UK, I was bullied by 3 teenage girls – I was 26, I had left a good theatre career in Singapore, blah blah, and these 16-year-olds were threatening to slap me, take my hat, mocking my hair, all in a Tube carriage with people who did nothing. When I got off, a woman put her arm around me, said Poor thing, just don’t say anything next time…next time? Next time nothing.
When my older daughter Rachel was 3, a group of boys (mix of Indian and black) called me Slit Eye and Slut. I ran after them, as they bolted off. I called the police, they followed up with me. I called the nearest school to report them; it turned out they had been expelled recently, and were hanging around the area. I felt lousy for the remaining month I was in London, after 7 years there. But I was able to do something; not so lucky for many many others.
So I’ve tried my best to teach my daughters to always be kind. Seems so simplistic but it works for us. Being kind means taking a step back; thinking first; looking out; giving what we can. It means having to go out our way to help someone, at our own expense, but knowing that it ultimately brings peace and happiness to someone. It doesn’t prevent shitty days, or shit from happening to us; but I guess it prevents us from turning into shits ourselves.
Bakchormeeboy: Tell us about your character and how you’ve been preparing for the role.
Xander: Curtis is a really interesting character to play. As much as so-called “bullies” are portrayed in a lot of media, it is quite rare that we find ones that are actually as human as the one that we see in this piece. Not only that, but the character that we see in Late Company is one that has had one year to think and reflect on what he’s done, which I think creates a really interesting dynamic and personality on stage. While it would be quite easy to play Curtis as the “bad guy”, it is really much more complicated than that, because the way the character us written shows the audiences that, while there may be evil actions, there are no evil people. So to prepare for this, I’ve had to find that fine line to create a character that audiences can feel for and recognize.
Bakchormeeboy: How does it feel to be working in theatre alongside both your parents? Would you say your relationship to them makes playing your role and rehearsals easier or more difficult?
Xander: The great thing about working with them is that it is not only a privilege to be working with people I am so close to, but it is also a privilege to be working with individuals that are so passionate and so forward-thinking about their work and their art. Being able to see both sides of them during rehearsals really allows me to experience the best of both worlds, and I do think it allows is to come together creatively in ways that help to enhance the piece is a really dynamic way.
Bakchormeeboy: Considering it’s a show about bullying, have you ever encountered or been involved in any cases of bullying yourself? What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling as a victim of bullying?
Xander: With the issue of bullying, a major issue is that it differs from case to case, and views on it differ from person to person. Some may consider the way I joke with my friends to be bullying, while others may see it as something lighter, so in that sense, I personally have not been in direct contact with bullying, but that may just be due to thick skin. For others who are being bullied though, the best advice anyone could give is to talk to someone, because they will be able to either take action and guide you in the best way to deal with the situation.
Bakchormeeboy: You previously studied at SOTA. What’s the next step for you in your career? Are you considering doing acting full-time, or are there any other acting related projects coming up for you?
Xander: After this production I will be shipped off to National Service for 2 years, however I do believe that my passion for theatre and the arts will survive that journey, because I hope to continue studying it further down the line. As of yet I haven’t decided which area of theatre I am most interested in , so looking forward, I intend to try exploring all my avenue to try and find which I thrive in the best.
Photos Courtesy of Pangdemonium
Late Company plays from 22nd February to 10th March 2019 at the Victoria Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC