by Shen Tan
72-13, Singapore

What is a perfect relationship? How much do social norms feed into the emotional connection between two people and affect the way they choose to lead their lives?

Playwright Shen Tan presents us with two case studies. William (Thomas Pang) and Samantha (Sharda Harrison) are happy to life their lives with no marriage and no kids. William’s best friend Lynn (Jo Tan) and her partner Kate (Chanel Ariel Chan), on the other hand, crave for the traditional family experience, seeking marriage abroad and having two kids. We follow these couples over the years, seeing their relationships snap and unfurl.

It’s certainly interesting to see a postmodern romance where the straight couple are the unconventional ones, not wanting to be bogged down by labels such as a marriage contract while the gay couple are deeply conservative at heart. Yet, can we, in this day and age, really justify a play where a same-sex couple exists just as the foil for a straight couple to decide whether they should formalise their union? Is it then fair to kill the former off, providing the play its only dramatic twist nearly two-thirds of the way in?  

Tan’s script, which was developed by TheatreWorks Writers' Lab and presented in a dramatised reading last year, is an urbane affair featuring successful, well-heeled characters who trade pleasantries and sip wine. There's plenty of light, sparkling banter and a sprinkling of wry humour thrown into the mix. However, for all its breeziness, the text ultimately fails to come across as a balanced piece. Talky monologues and a distinct lack of plot development make for a rather tedious ninety minutes.

Photo Credit: TheatreWorks

13.13.13 is fortunately buoyed by strong performances. Pang and Harrison, in particular, display an effortless chemistry as they go about their daily routines. There's also a powerful, understated turn by Jo Tan that catches the complex spectrum of emotions the play tries to dissect.

Tan Shou Chen provides enlightened direction to cut across the swathes of text. Multimedia projections are superimposed on Chan Silei’s largely white set, showing wordless scenes that chart the progress of the characters through time. The set itself is presented as a bit of an interstitial space; comprised of a series of cords which can be unfastened and refastened as the actors navigate through the scenes. It's a clever idea but ends up feeling a little gimmicky. 

It's difficult to watch a play like this without making the inevitable comparison to other LGBT-themed plays in our local canon. And the fact of the matter is that 13.13.13 stands up rather poorly to works such as Joel Tan's urgent, explosive Tango or Eleanor Wong's  eloquent Invitation to Treat trilogy. There's little here that one feels would stand the test of time.

The Crystalwords score: 2.5/5

*For more insights on this production, do check out my podcast for Arts Equator where I discuss the play with educator and theatre reviewer Matthew Lyon and writer, activist and academic Ann Lee.


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