“Hand to God”
Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 29 April 2017
As the lights go up, we see children’s toys suspended several metres above the stage. Ominously lit, this is reminiscent of imagery from The Exorcist or other films about demonic possession. A grim monologue ensues about humankind’s anarchical beginnings and the dubious origins of morality. But the speech is not performed by an ominous hulking Satan or the leader of a modern-day cult but by a blue sock puppet with buttons for eyes and fraying seams. It is by balancing heavy philosophical material with an almost puerile sense of humour upon which Hand to God operates, creating a funny and poignant piece on repression.
The ultimate highlight of the production is Thomas Pang’s incredible performance as Jason and Tyrone (Jason’s sock-puppet). As Jason, Pang exudes innocence, bitterness, and rage. Yet as Tyrone, he fluctuates between hilarious, chilling, and surprisingly sympathetic. He excels at both characters, but to describe it as two characters does a disservice to his performance. He switches between the two so fluently, holding entire scenes by himself. The chemistry between Jason and Tyron almost makes us forget that Pang plays both, because the comedic timing and contrast is so sharp. His ease at navigating between the timid Jason and the bold Tyrone keeps us constantly entertained and engaged: even when Tyrone screams and raves, we see Jason behind the cracks, afraid of what he has unleashed.
The entire production team, especially the production designer, Susannah Henry, and the lighting designer, Lim Woan Wen, must be commended for doing so much with such a small space. The audience let out audible gasps at several scene transitions, stunned by the ways the simple set (a church classroom) transforms to bring the characters to new locations. The set design and its numerous secrets brings us back to the theme of repression, leaving the audience wondering what else lies beneath the surface.
Every element of this production is focused and purposeful. Though the depiction of sex could potentially be considered graphic, it is clearly brought to an extreme to explore the binary of repression and release. Even the intermission music, pounding heavy rock music, serves a purpose. It brings the audience into the psyche of the protagonist and provides a sharp contrast with the light, bubbly house music before the show began.
My only qualm lies with its finale. The push and pull between Jason and Tyrone reaches its climax, only for the resolution to be rejected and the climax prolonged. Although this is rounded off by a nice image, elements of the finale feel forced for us to reach this moment, perhaps coming at the cost of a neater and tighter closing.
By juggling comedy and drama, repression and release, slave morality and sock puppets, SRT puts up an exciting and adventurous show, challenging us to free ourselves, but maybe just not as far as Tyrone has.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
HAND TO GOD by Singapore Repertory Theatre
19 April – 6 May 2017
KC Arts Centre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.