Session Zero

by Jo Tan
Checkpoint Theatre
Drama Centre Black Box, Singapore

A couple, known only by their nicknames Smokey (Brendan Fernandez) and Speedy (Jo Tan), set out to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons. He's a thespian, a seasoned player who slips into characters with ease and embraces his role as Dungeon Master. She's a contract lawyer, a dubious newbie who queries everything and refuses to let herself fold into the narrative. Over the course of an evening, the pair navigate battles big and small, but the real quest is something quite beyond the game - their marriage.

Jo Tan's taut, confident two-hander, originally staged in 2021 by Checkpoint Theatre and directed by Huzir Sulaiman, weaves together these real and imagined worlds with aplomb. We move back and forth between the present-day game and scenes from the couple's past - their university romance, family dynamics and work troubles.

I appreciated the symmetry of Tan's text and how the act of storytelling is equally divided between the characters, reaching a tender symbiosis towards the end. Speedy paints the scenes from the real world with beautiful detachment just as Smokey does within the fictional realm of the game. Yet, I rather wished for Tan's real world characters to be slightly more developed. Throwaway references to race and sexuality are never followed up in any meaningful way. I desperately wanted to learn more about the actual marriage instead of being distracted with side quests that ultimately did not matter.

Huzir coaxes engaging, empathetic performances from the pair, smoothly balancing the laugh-out-loud humour with moments that quietly lacerate. Tan, ever the malleable performer, slips effortlessly between her many characters. She is ably matched by Fernandez's Smokey who entertains the crowd with a variety of accents and acts as a smooth, eloquent counterpoint to Speedy's nervous prattling. Like many other Checkpoint productions, the design is simple but thoughtful, a plain white tabletop and two chairs being the only notable props alongside a multitude of coloured lights that mark the scene transitions.

Session Zero is a play that cleverly likens relationships to a game of D&D. We each take on our roles and there's always an element of chance. We may not always figure out the rules, but if we give it our all, maybe, just maybe, we will emerge triumphant.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5


Popular Posts