Arts Review Singapore Theatre

★★★☆☆ Review: Never The Bride by The Necessary Stage

Searching for meaning beyond marriage as the endgame.

CategoryScore (out of 10)
Direction (Alvin Tan)6
Script (Rajkumar Thiagaras, Ryan Ang, Fadhil Daud)6
Performance (Rajkumar Thiagaras, Ryan Ang, Fadhil Daud)6
Composition / Sound Design (Emily Wong Ng Jing)7
Scenography (Petrina Dawn Tan)6
Multimedia /Film (Genevieve Peck / Tan Wei Ting)8
Choreography (Ryan Ang)7
Total46/70 (66%)
Final Score:★★★☆☆

In a world inundated with imagery of big weddings across film, television and media in general, it makes sense that from a young age, marriage as an institution is easily accepted as the ultimate goal and pretty much a guarantee of happiness. But for queer Singaporeans, living in a land where marriage has been firmly defined between one man and one woman, will their dreams of one day becoming a beautiful bride remain dashed forever?

For queer theatremakers Rajkumar Thiagaras, Fadhil Daud and Ryan Ang, that is a conundrum they’ve decided to explore in their new devised work, Never The Bride. Directed by Alvin Tan, the play comprises a series of sketches where the three men explore what marriage means to them, from cultural significance to fantasy sequences, all playing on the idea and emotions that stem from them realising they will never be the bride.

Arriving at the Esplanade Annexe Studio, the space has been set up to resemble a wedding banquet, with round tables guests are seated around. An eerie rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’ plays in the background, as if insinuating the more sinister aspects of quietly accepting that ‘whatever will be, will be’. It’s an interesting set-up to help draw audience members into the play’s main themes, but as we find out later on, this also creates problems, such as limiting our view and obscuring certain details depending on where one is seated.

Enter the three performers as the ‘pondan sisters’ in an energetic dance number, parodying MacBeth’s ‘wyrd sisters’ as they begin their ceremony, reading from their little black book revealing their darkest desires, wanting to be expensive, glamorous brides as they gather in a circle and cast their spell, revealing the hard truths about gay life to us.

Changing characters and becoming news reporters, the performers then talk about the comparative lack of rights and affordances queer people face in Singapore, as same-sex marriage remains firmly illegal, while even adoption is out of the question. Yet, as the repeal of 377A shows, there is a wave of new hope, as the performers place their belief in the new generation and what they’re capable of. But the question remains – do people actually want to get married? The performers break the fourth wall and begin going down the aisles, asking them this, while attempting to put on faux French accents. They conclude that marriage can and should ultimately be a choice.

Swapping over to a film segment, we’re faced with a Netflix passcode-gated screen for restricted content, suggesting a programme suited for adults. In the film (by Tan Wei Ting), Fadhil and Ryan are lying in bed, as they discuss Fadhil’s situation where he is to get married to a girl. Ryan is the third party in this, relegated to the friend with benefits, and while they agree on the current arrangements, Ryan seems to yearn for something more, and we realise how much of queer culture is steeped in secrecy and love in the dark. Raj walks in, and also expresses his own struggles with relationship complexities, leading to an even deeper conundrum of what exactly a relationship comprises.

The next segment then becomes a workshop, as the men teach us how to secure a match through courtship. Comparing the process of flirting to a waltz, they run through the contemporary process of checking each other’s Instagram to see if they match, before the delicate art of conversation. Watching as the two men exchange messages in ‘real time’, we see how the gaps between each message increase, one-sided due to boredom, eventually leading to ghosting and loneliness.

But what if the gays could get married? The energy rises again in the next sketch, as Ryan comes out drunk and dancing to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’, at his own imaginary hen party. But even as he’s about to commit, he plants a kiss on his maid of honour, while the party gets even more heated with a stripper for hire – is the institution of marriage really that sacred? In a similar vein, Fadhil attempts to get married in traditional Malay style, completely dressed in traditional garb, yet gets cold feet when the imams and guests begin gossiping about him.

We then turn our attention to the conservatives of Singapore, gathered at an imaginary ‘AGM’ (anti-gay meeting), as they learn how to spot the gays based on stereotypes, and how gay marriage would be a slippery slope en route to destroying homes and harmony. Yet sometimes, the biggest hypocrites are lying in plain sight, and with so much hate, what does this spell for the future of the gays in Singapore? For the three performers, as they suddenly become old men of the future, they reflect on how as superficial as marriage may seem, because of how they’re so closely tied to HDBs or even the acknowledgement of love, they are so integral to one’s happiness.

And regardless of one’s background, marriage features so strongly, it’s inevitable that one wants it to be the end goal anyway, as Ryan arrives in a red veil, Raj comes out in a flower garland, and Fadhil carries a kris knife, symbolic of the thoughtfulness the man wishes to display in his marriage. All three are speaking their own respective mother tongues, disillusioned by how the version of marriage they grew up with is all but impossible for gay men, as they ponder over whether they can ever be ‘normal’.

While showcasing their inventiveness in coming up with various scenarios, Never The Bride still feels like an exercise in devising rather than a fully thought out, cohesive theatre piece. Far too often, the team deviates away from a central message or idea when they play with scenes such as the AGM or the courtship rituals, and the attempt to encapsulate the modern queer experience proves far too massive and ambitious to squeeze into this performance. What this results in is a mostly unfocused production that itself doesn’t entirely know what it wants to achieve, much like how in the wake of the repeal of 377A, the new generation of queer people in Singapore are for now, uncertain where the legislative fight really lies anymore.

As the pondan sisters return, they now share their aspirations and feel a renewed sense of optimism, drop their head dress, and urge us to make the right choice, fighting for marriage equality. But perhaps rather than subscribing to a heteronormative institution of marriage, Never The Bride might instead find more solace in finding a new normal to work towards, as it has essentially shown the flaws of marriage and weddings as the end goal, and emphasises the bigger importance of what rights and privileges they unlock, and how they widen the disparity between straight and queer Singaporeans. Rather than retread familiar ground and play on easy stereotypes of the community, in the wake of 377A, it is an opportunity to rewrite the narrative and move forward to carve a new path for the queer future of Singapore.

Photo Credit: Tuckys Photography

Never The Bride runs from 4th to 8th January 2023 at the Esplanade Annexe Studio as part of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2023. Tickets are sold out. More information available here

The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2023 runs from 4th to 15th January 2023 across various venues. Tickets and full lineup available here

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